Subject: UCAN: East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after soldiers riot

East Timor Catholic leaders appeal for calm after soldiers riot


UCANews (> )

DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ­ Catholic 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 1,000 of their supporters.

Army protesters and their sympathizers took to the streets of the capital April 28-29 with calls 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 kilometers (about five miles) 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.

About 8,000 shaken city inhabitants took refuge at Salesian-run Don Bosco center, a skills training center located 10 kilometers (about six miles) west of the city.

In a press release the diocesan office in Dili issued on May 2, 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.

In a media release dated April 30, Jose Ramos Horta, senior minister for foreign affairs and cooperation, said the dismissed soldiers for the most part behaved properly throughout the demonstrations. The release also says most have returned home and never joined the rioting, and the government will keep trying to dialogue with them to ascertain the root causes of their grievances.

Salesian Father Agostino Soares told UCA News on May 1 that "mostly children and woman" are sheltering at the Don Bosco center. "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 center with his two daughters, told UCA News on April 30 that East Timorese are still traumatized 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."

Sources say the national police, supported by the army, apparently have gotten the situation under control, but many people are still taking refuge in places outside the city for fear of further violence.

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 U.N. administration, Catholic-majority Timor Leste, or East Timor, became an independent country in May 2002.

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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (> ).

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