Dili Salesian tells of anarchy in "city of fear"

A Salesian priest caught in the bloodshed and anarchy in East Timor has described his nation as "a divided people gripped in fear" and the situation in Dili is worse than the violence that followed the 1999 vote of independence.

The Catholic Weekly reports that Fr Antonio Trans Pinto said "people are looting, fighting, burning and killing each other. There is fighting within the military and the police against police."

"The Government officials are divided, the army is divided, and the people are divided," Fr Antonio said. "We don't know who the bad people are and who are our friends."

The situation has sparked an appeal for humanitarian aid on a large scale to provide food, shelter and medical aid "now more than ever."

Fr Antonio works at the Don Bosco Comore Centre, where more than 10,000 refugees have fled.

"Even inside the centre, we are afraid of each other," he said.

More than 50,000 displaced people fled to embassies, churches, convents, schools and other religious institutions last week as violence escalated on the city's streets.

The unrest in East Timor followed a decision in March to sack almost 600 soldiers for going on strike over working conditions and alleged discrimination.

Rival ethnic gangs, armed with daggers, machetes and slingshots, rioted in Dili, looting Government food warehouses, burning properties and shooting and bashing ethnic enemies.

Fr Antonio said: "People are going to the mountains, the villages and some are going to the safest places like embassies and religious houses. They are very scared, many of their houses have been burned and looted and they have no where to go."

People "were suffering" inside the centre. "There are a lot of people squeezed together in a small space with no water and little food," he said.

The conditions have only worsened disease, particularly diarrhoea and breathing complaints, that were plaguing the poor population even before the latest trouble began.

Caritas Australia has launched an appeal to "provide much needed basic requirements for the thousands of displaced people" and Catholic Mission is providing funds through its work in Partnering Local Churches and Communities.

The Salesian Missions is also appealing for support. "The Timorese need our help now more than ever," says Br Michael Lynch, appeal coordinator.

Meanwhile, Benedict XVI has issued a call for peace in East Timor, a nation "wracked by tension and violence which has caused victims and destruction."

At the conclusion of his public audience on Wednesday, the Pontiff encouraged both local Church groups and international organisations to rally support for people displaced by the latest violence.

The violence in East Timor comes just four years after the country officially gained independence. After over 20 years under Indonesian rule, East Timor, marred by violent militia violence, a previous international intervention in 1999 ended the Indonesian rule and paved the way for self-government.

Donations for East Timor can be sent to the Salesian Missions, PO Box 264, Ascot Vale VIC 3032. Donations to Caritas can be made by phoning 1800 024 413, by mail to GPO Box 9830 in your capital city or online at www.caritas.org.au.

We are trapped in a city of fear - Dili priest (Catholic Weekly 4/6/06)
Pope urges peace in East Timor (Catholic World News 31/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Mission
Caritas Australia

Mission head hit by stone-throwing mob (CathNews 31/5/06)
Catholic Mission supporting sanctuary for Dili children (CathNews 30/5/06)
Caritas monitoring Dili crisis (CathNews 29/5/06)
Aid agencies alarmed at growing violence in East Timor (CathNews 26/5/06)
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)

Pope calls on end of violence in East Timor (Pravda/NU 31/6/06)
Pope appeals for calm, peace in East Timor (Catholic News Service 31/5/06)
East Timor needs us (Catholic Leader 4/6/06)
More Than 100,000 Flee East Timor Homes (The Guardian/Associated Press 31/5/06)
Caritas NZ Pledges Support for Timor Leste (Scoop 30/5/06)

1 Jun 2006