East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after riot

Church leaders in East Timor have called for calm as troops continue to patrol the tense streets of Dili in the wake of a riot by hundreds of dismissed soldiers and about a thousand of their supporters.

The UCAN agency reports that Army protesters and their sympathisers took to the streets of the capital last week to call for the reinstatement of 591 soldiers who had been dismissed in February after they protested against alleged discrimination.

According to various reports, five people died in the rioting, 20 houses were burned and a market in Taibessi, around 7 kilometres southeast of Dili, was badly damaged. The protesters also broke the windows of the government palace and burned a government vehicle in the front of the building.

Thousands of shaken city inhabitants took refuge at Salesian-run Don Bosco centre located 10km west of the city.

In a press release the diocesan office in Dili issued on 2 May, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau declared that the Church condemns all violence caused by protesters or security agencies. The bishops, whose two dioceses cover the whole country, urged that those responsible for crimes be investigated and called on the government to address the dismissed soldiers' grievances justly.

The dismissed soldiers, representing a third of the army, are "Kaladi," a term referring to people from East Timor's west, while most army personnel are "Firaku" from the east. The easterners, it is claimed, were the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

Salesian Fr Agostino Soares told UCAN that "mostly children and woman" are sheltering at the Don Bosco centre. "We are trying to help them by providing basic nutrition and sanitation. The government is also helping us to provide them with food," Father Soares said.

Silverio da Silva, who was staying at the centre with his two daughters, told UCAN on 30 April that East Timorese are still traumatised by the violence following the 1999 referendum vote for independence from Indonesia.

"We have suffered enough," da Silva said as he carried one of his daughters. "We urge the government leaders to settle this problem soon."

Following the August 1999 referendum, pro-Indonesia militias went on a rampage, killing hundreds of people and destroying infrastructure. Indonesia then relinquished control of the former Portuguese colony, which it had brought under its rule in 1975. After more than two years under a transitional UN administration, Catholic-majority Timor Leste, or East Timor, became an independent country in May 2002.

East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after soldiers riot (Catholic Online/Union of Catholic Asian News 3/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mary MacKillop East Timor

Thousands shelter in Catholic centres after East Timor riots (CathNews 3/5/06)

20,000 flee Dili fearing civil war (The Australian 5/5/06)

5 May 2006