Aid agencies alarmed at growing violence in East Timor

CAFOD, the Caritas organisation in England and Wales, has joined other international agencies in expressing grave concern over the escalating violence in East Timor as the first 130 Australian troops arrived yesterday to restore order in Dili.

Independent Catholic News reports that the unrest in East Timor has followed a decision in March to sack almost 600 soldiers for going on strike over working conditions and alleged discrimination.

In recent days the dismissed soldiers, who make up around a third of East Timor's army have launched fresh attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Dili, and two people were killed during violent clashes on Tuesday. Thousands of people have fled Dili fearing further violence.

CAFOD's Program Manager for South East Asia, Alexandra Cooney, said: "I was living in East Timor until March of this year. The soldiers were sacked just before I left and tensions were certainly high at the time, but I'm shocked and deeply saddened by how far the situation has deteriorated.

"We have heard from our partner organisations in East Timor, such as Caritas Dili and NGO Forum, that thousands of people have fled the capital because of the riots," he said.

Mr Cooney said that people are fleeing to temporary camps set up on the outskirts of the city or other parts of the country where they are staying with family. He says heavy rainfalls have added to problems for those living in the camps.

"People are extremely traumatised by what they are seeing and very concerned for their own safety," he said.

"We have also heard from our sister agency, Catholic Relief Services, that the US embassy has begun pulling out American staff because of the heightened security threat and others are on standby for evacuation should the situation get any worse."

Mr Cooney said that the deteriorating security situation made it very difficult for CAFOD's partners to continue their good work.

CAFOD has been working in East Timor since 1989. The agency's partner organisations have played a significant role in the country's development since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Meanwhile, in a letter initiated by Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre published in today's The Age, a number of academics and activists have called on the international community "not turn its back on the people of East Timor."

The letter congratulated the Australian Government on a "timely and wholehearted response to the crisis in East Timor" but says military intervention is not enough. The long-term issue of justice, the letter says, also must be addressed.

The crisis "is also a reminder of the fact that this is a nation born out of trauma, and fear and mistrust run deep," the signatories said.

"Many in East Timor - including political parties other than Fretilin, the church and civil society - have called repeatedly in recent years for justice for the war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the period of Indonesian occupation."

"This grievance was a factor in the protests in Dili last year," they said.

"It might take longer and be more difficult than military intervention, but there can be no lasting peace without justice," the letter concluded.

Aid agencies alarmed at growing violence in East Timor (Independent Catholic News 25/5/06)
Without justice, there will be no peace (The Age 26/5/06 - temporary link)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
CAFOD | Concern about East Timor's escalating violence

Josephite says unemployment underlies Timor trouble (CathNews 25/5/06)
Priest calls frightened Timorese home (CathNews 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)

26 May 2006