Church joins fray in Timor

The Church in East Timor has held talks with the country's former UN ambassador, Jose Luis Guterres, who is today challenging Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for his job at a national congress of the ruling Fretilin party.

The Australian reports that Mr Alkatiri, a Muslim prime minister in a staunchly Catholic country, said he would resign if he were voted out.

But fears are growing that a leadership spill could be the trigger for renewed political violence and instability involving pro- and anti-government supporters.

Fretilin, the former political front of armed resistance to Indonesian occupation, won 57.4 per cent of the vote in the 2001 elections and holds 55 seats in the country's 88-seat assembly, but is heavily factionalised.

Almost 600 disgruntled soldiers scattered into the mountains in the wake of bloody riots last month that left at least five killed, dozens injured and more than 60 houses destroyed or damaged, including Government Palace.

Other groups have expressed sympathy to their plight, including 15 heavily armed military police led by an Australian-trained army major, Alfredo Reinaldo.

Last Saturday, the revered Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento, held talks with Mr Guterres, a Fretilin political moderate.

Although the church has not publicly endorsed any candidate, its loathing of the Alkatiri-led Government is well known. Mr Guterres's moderate credentials are likely to find favour with conservative clergy.

The church is also angry at a decision to drop criminal trials involving pro-Jakarta militia atrocities committed during the 1999 independence vote.

Church joins fray in Timor (The Australian 17/5/06)

Diocese prepares to aid fleeing East Timor refugees (CathNews 11/5/06)
East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after riot (CathNews 5/5/06)
Thousands shelter in Catholic centres after East Timor riots (CathNews 3/5/06)
West Timor bishop tells Govt it's time to act on refugees (CathNews 13/3/03)

Thousands of Dili residents yet to return home (ABC News 16/5/06)
Tight security for East Timor congress (Sydney Morning Herald/Australian Associated Press 16/5/06)
Timor leadership challenge goes to party (The Age 17/5/06)

17 May 2006