Man of Peace: Sincere, open dialogue is needed: Belo

The Nation - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Nobel laureate says talking to militants is only way to end the conflict in the South

 The government should try to sit down and hold a sincere and open dialogue with separatists and Malay Muslims in the Deep South so there may be peace, Nobel Peace laureate Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor said yesterday.

The bishop said that although he does not like to interfere in the internal affairs of another country it would be wise for the government to resort to peaceful means to resolve conflict.

Belo is in Bangkok as part of the International Peace Foundation’s “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” programme.

The government is planning to dispatch 12,000 troops to Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat on top of the 20,000 already stationed there amid growing fear and distrust among both Malay Muslims and Buddhists. More than 500 people have been killed in the three southernmost provinces during the past year.

Belo said respect for the Malay culture, equal opportunities for development and governmental transparency will also be crucial.

Most important is the need to cultivate peace through education. Belo told The Nation that people have a tendency to prefer an immediate end to conflict through arms and violence but perseverance and dialogue are the only sustainable solutions as violence “would only cause more violence”.

Belo recalled his experience during the 25-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor during which one-third of the 600,000 people there died. It was never easy to try to be a man of peace, he said.

He was accused by both sides of being impartial and the Indonesian authorities at that time even regarded him as a double-headed man as he urged the Indonesian authorities to listen to the hearts and minds of the East Timorese.

Belo told the East Timorese prior to independence in 1999 that they should carry on the struggle peacefully with their heads and be reasonable.

Now, the Indonesian government should use the peaceful means of dialogue to resolve the conflict in Aceh province, he said. For people to live side-by-side in peace, they should learn to respect one another’s culture and religion, he said, adding that education for peace is an education for global citizenship.

Belo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, wrote in a paper on education for peace to be presented this afternoon at the Asian Institute of Technology that education for peace should be an effort to consolidate new ways to see, understand and live in the world. Beginning with ourselves and eventually others, we need to look horizontally, forming a net, giving trust, safety and authority to the people and society as well as overcoming distrust.

Education for peace is also about striving to avoid forming an assumption that war is normal and inevitable, he said.

“Peace means the eradication of injustices and inequalities of the social and economic order, eradication of jealousies, and of the distrust and pride that is propagated between nations, which remain a constant threat to peace.”

Pravit Rojanaphruk