Subject: UCAN: Conflict resolution, humanitarian aid cited as needs in riot-torn East Timor

UCAN: Conflict resolution, humanitarian aid cited as needs in riot-torn East Timor

8/16/2006

DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ­ A recent workshop in riot-torn Dili has stressed the need to prevent future conflicts and tackle the current humanitarian crisis, but church and nongovernmental organization (NGO) participants say healing divisions in society will be hard.

Canossian Sister Domingas Dias, 34, told the 50 participants attending the Aug. 10-11 meeting that ideas must be sought from "grassroots" communities in Dili as people who had fled the capital now try to return. The East Timorese nun stressed that it is essential to find out what grassroots people think about "creating a harmonious living environment" in society.

Forum NGO, an umbrella organization of international and local NGOs working in East Timor, ran the workshop at the ministry of education hall in Dili.

Salesian Father Agostinho Soares, head of the Catholic Church's justice and peace commission, told the workshop East Timor faces three important issues ­ humanitarian aid, conflict resolution and reintegrating refugees back into society. On the workshop's sidelines on Aug. 11, he told UCA News the church is ministering to refugees, and "working with government and non-governmental institutions on how to provide shelter, food and medicine" to them.

One man whose views were eagerly sought was Brigadier Michael Slater, the Australian commander of the international security force. He told participants who complained they worry about security in Dili's suburbs that his force guarantees security but the local community has to collaborate with the international force. "The situation depends so much on the community," he said. "We are here to help restore to calm but need help from the community."

Maria Angelina Sarmento, coordinator of Forum NGO, told UCA News about the workshop's recommendations for government, society and church. According to Sarmento, the participants recommended that the government review how it responds to crises, develop reconciliation among opposing factions in society and bring to justice those who committed crimes in the recent unrest.

She also said they want the country's leaders to "establish better formation for the national police and army, and in-depth knowledge of human rights so they can respect human rights in carrying out their responsibilities."

The participants also recommended that the government create a military court to tackle problems of discipline in the army, and that political and societal leaders learn from the recent national tragedy.

Augusto Pires, a civil servant from Baucau, 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) east of Dili, told UCA News the workshop was positive because its proposals would help the government resolve the crisis. It was good for the church and civil society to "share their ideas and suggestions based on national interest," he added.

Thousands still in refugee camps fear and are reluctant to return home, evidencing how tough it is for Dili to return to normal. Some were attacked as they tried to return, and others found their homes occupied by adversaries in this polarized society, divided between easterners and westerners.

The small nation with fewer than 1 million people descended into chaos in April after former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri sacked 594 soldiers, nearly half the nation's army, who had effectively mutinied.

The mutiny led to armed clashes and gang violence, pitting locals from the eastern and western parts of the country against one another. The violence left 21 people dead and sent 150,000 people fleeing to refugee camps.

An international military and police force of about 2,500 began arriving in late May to restore order, but gang violence, looting and arson persist.

On Aug. 15, for instance, some young people were seen attacking a man and his car near a refugee camp in Dili. The incident occurred as the man was parking his car near a shopping center, just 200 meters from a refugee camp housing predominantly easterners.

One witness who refused to be named told UCA News that youngsters attacked the man and damaged his car presuming he is a westerner. "He was involved in forcing us out of our homes," the bystander said. East Timor's own police have been taken off the streets due to their involvement in some of the fighting.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a yearlong mission that would include deployment of a 1,600-strong U.N. civilian police force. The new mission would support the government, promote political stability and assist in the 2007 elections.


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