$320,000 from Caritas to expand Dili humanitarian relief

Caritas Australia is boosting its humanitarian relief operation and reconciliation training programs to the districts outside of Dili as fresh violence breaks out in East Timor amid a huge security lockdown by foreign peacekeepers.

"Caritas Australia has just committed $320,000 towards the East Timor humanitarian response, which will enable us to focus on peace building and reconciliation, as well as emergency relief for those displaced," said Dr Jay Maheswaran, East Timor Country Director for Caritas Australia.

According to Caritas, these programs will see 7,000 people participate in sports, psychosocial counselling and community work as a way of fostering cultural exchange and acceptance.

Work training schemes will also foster a sense of cohesion, a Caritas statement said, as different communities work together to rebuild homes and other buildings that have been destroyed.

"We are currently coordinating the logistics of food distribution for the internally displaced people in Oecussi, south-west of Dili. Operations will also be expanded to Baucau, east of Dili, where there has been a 40 per cent increase in the population," said Dr Maheswaran.

In the past weeks many thousands of people have begun taking refuge away from the capital. Caritas says it is responding to the 70,000 people now living in camps in and around the capital city.

Despite the hope for peace that came with the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri on Monday, there has been a continued spate of house burnings and violence over the past few nights.

Thousands of supporters of East Timor's ousted prime minister have rallied in the capital amid the security lockdown by foreign troops.

There are fears of more unrest today as Dr Alkatiri is summoned by prosecutors to address allegations of hiring "hit squads" to silence his political opponents, which Dr Alkatiri vehemently denies.

"The violence has now become politically-driven, with pro-Alkatiri and anti-Alkatiri factions facing off against one another. Violence has spilt over into some of the camps for internally displaced people," Dr Maheswaran said.

"Plans to reconcile the country's estranged communities will also begin in parallel while emergency responses are being implemented."

Meanwhile, the latest issue of the Parramatta Diocese's Outlook reports that the immediacy of the crisis in East Timor has lead to the suspension of planned teacher training courses scheduled for last month by the Mary MacKillop East Timor (MMET).

Instead, in the weeks since the breakdown of law and order in Dili, MMET staff have been preoccupied in dealing with the immediate, ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The Director of MMET, Sr Josephine Mitchell, said through their local contacts they had been helping to co-ordinate the delivery of the most basic of needs (food and water) to groups of internally displaced persons.

"It's about keeping people alive," she said. "It's a constant battle to buy food in these circumstances."

Caritas Australia works to heal divide in East Timor (Caritas 29/6/06)
Josephites rally to help East Timorese (Catholic Outlook July 2006)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mary McKillop East Timor
Caritas Australia

Nun says unemployment underlies Timor trouble (CathNews 25/5/06)
Timor Church to pursue truth and dialogue (CathNews 29/6/06)

30 Jun 2006