Priest calls frightened Timorese home

East Timorese should believe Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's assurance that the situation in Dili is now safe for refugees to return home but the Government must do more to guarantee their safety following the recent bloody unrest, Catholics in the capital were told yesterday.

The Australian reports that the parish priest of Dili's cathedral Jose Antony da Costa made the remarks at Mass yesterday to his congregation.

Authorities have confirmed the death of a sixth person injured in rioting more than three weeks ago in Dili, in clashes sparked by the sacking of almost 600 disgruntled soldiers.

Thousands of families deserted the capital after the clashes as rumours of impending anarchy spread.

Despite their fears, many residents have now returned to the city, and on Saturday night crowds attended a rock concert staged in front of the government building where rioters smashed windows and burnt official vehicles in the wild scenes on 28 April.

At least five civilians died in the chaos and in shooting that continued through the night, with a sixth succumbing to his injuries in recent days, police chief Paulo Martins said yesterday.

A seventh victim, a policeman, fell to a 1000-strong mob more than a week after the initial violence in the western town of Gleno, near where the sacked soldiers and their supporters have been hiding since abandoning their posts.

Tensions continued last week with the re-election of Mr Alkatiri as secretary-general of the ruling Fretilin party at its national congress, despite accusations of undemocratic voting procedures.

Mr Alkatiri's only challenger for the position, East Timor's ambassador to the US, Jose Luis Guterres, withdrew in protest after the congress failed to ensure that elections at the congress would be by secret ballot.

Dili diocesan spokesman Dominggus Soares said yesterday the Catholic Church - which represents the overwhelming majority of East Timorese - regarded Mr Alkatiri's re-election by show of hands on Friday as "undemocratic" since it was not conducted "by a valid method".

Fr Soares said the church was not optimistic the re-election of Mr Alkatiri and party president Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, who is also the parliamentary speaker, would lead to greater stability for East Timor.

"I feel the situation will get even more complicated now," the priest said. "They already can't solve the current problems, and new ones that appear will also not get solved."

Priest calls frightened Timorese home (The Australian 22/5/06)

Church joins fray in Timor (CathNews 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)

Growing pains threaten to slow East Timor's path to maturity (Sydney Morning Herald 22/5/06)
Hopes rise for deal to end Timor unrest (The Age 22/5/06)
Fear of nightmare's return keeps refugees in hiding (Sydney Morning Herald 19/5/06)
50,000 too frightened to return to Dili (The Age 19/5/06)
Dili residents driven away by riots scared to return (ABC Radio AM 17/5/06)

22 May 2006