Caritas says Timor death toll may exceed official figures

Caritas Australia's Chief Executive Officer, Jack de Groot, who has been in East Timor as part of Caritas' assessment team, says he found evidence the death toll from the recent violence in Dili is "far higher" than official reports suggest.

The official death toll is around 20 since the first riots in April, but Mr de Groot yesterday told the ABC's AM program that there are consistent and widespread accounts of a much higher toll.

He estimates between 400 and 500 houses alone have been burnt down in the past fortnight. Businesses have been destroyed and countless people have died.

"The deaths that we do wonder about that haven't been recorded and are rumoured, are the ones not so much from the gangs, but the gunfire, which may be gang-related, it may be others, around the mountains around Dili," he said.

"Perhaps there's just a lot of firing in the air," he cautioned, "but we do have some anecdotal stories of, certainly, people not coming into Dili to admit themselves to hospital, fearing that it would be worse for their situation and safety by coming to town."

Mr de Groot has spent the past few days talking to people in Dili, including those who fled the city in fear, and many who have stayed.

"There is a view that whilst the Government has recorded the four deaths based on the corpses admitted to the mortuary back in the 28th, 29th of April period, there are stories of far more deaths around that time," he said.

Asked about some of the stories he had heard from Dili residents, Mr de Groot said in regard to the violence of gangs in the streets, that there was a systematic pattern in the way they attacked houses. He says he heard stories of gangs organising via SMS text messaging.

"Those are all stories that do create the extraordinary sense of fear. A community like this cannot continue to live its lives around rumours of violence being done," he said.

He has called for an independent and international investigation into how many people have died, the causes of their deaths, and who is to blame.

"They [East Timorese] just fundamentally need to know and see before them investigations that are clear, that will bring about justice, that are transparent, and go to the highest realms of this nation's democracy," said Mr de Groot.

Meanwhile, Sr Susan Connelly of the Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies (MMIETS) said the recent violence was an example of peace being unable to exist in a country if the injustices of the past were not addressed.

The Catholic Leader reports that she said the violence had been a "big setback" for the East Timorese people, but it had been brewing for some time.

In a recent newsletter, MMIETS said during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation more than 180,000 East Timorese were killed as a result of the oppression.

"Although 400 Indonesian persons have been indicted for crimes against humanity committed during that time, not one has been brought to trial," the newsletter said.

"Justice has not yet been done, and the suffering of the East Timorese has therefore been belittled."

East Timor death toll may be higher than official count (ABC Radio AM 8/6/06)
Suffering 'trivialised' (Catholic Leader 11/6/06)

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

Melbourne prayers for troubled East Timor (CathNews 5/6/06)
Caritas commences Dili humanitarian response (CathNews 2/6/06)
Dili Salesian tells of anarchy in "city of fear" (CathNews 1/6/06)
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)

Caritas Australia says justice is needed for reconciliation to occur in East Timor (Caritas Australia 8/6/06)
Aid agency seeks E Timor death toll inquiry (ABC News 8/6/06)
Church, aid groups question East Timor death toll (ABC Radio Australia 8/6/06)
Troops fail to stop gangs as East Timor refugees cower (Catholic Online/UCAN 7/6/06)
The traumatic birth of a nation (On Line Opinion 8/6/06)
Timor death toll may be higher: Caritas (Reuters/Australian Associated Press 8/6/06)
Refugees find shelter in church buildings (Aid to the Church in Need 5/6/06)
Thousands take shelter in Dili refuge centres (Catholic Weekly 11/6/06)
Peace and reconciliation are needed in Timor Leste (NZ Catholic)
Caritas Australia Monitoring East Timor Turmoil (Zenit 6/6/06)

9 Jun 2006