Subject: Churches seek peace amid gang violence in East Timor -31/05/06

Also: Pope appeals for peace; Holy Father Appeals for Peace in East Timor

News briefing from Ekklesia

Churches seek peace amid gang violence in East Timor -31/05/06

Christian leaders in East Timor will renew calls for peace during Sunday services this weekend, as foreign troops from Australia and Portugal continue to clash with armed gangs on the streets of Dili.

Last week, Father Antonio Alves of Motael Catholic Church called in his homily for special prayers for the country as around 1,000 refugees crowded in and around the church seeking shelter.

He described the situation as a national crisis in which the police and army, who are supposed to uphold security, have also split into warring factions.

Dili has been in chaos since trouble flared in April 2006 after the government fired more than a third of the 1,400-member army, reports UCA News.

Close to 600 soldiers were dismissed after they went on strike claiming discrimination and a lack of promotion. The soldiers concerned are Kaladi, a term referring to people from the western part of East Timor, while most army personnel are Firaku, from the east. The easterners claim they were the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

"People have run away, people are dead, people suffer," Father Alves said on the grounds of his church in central Dili, as frightened families gathered around him.

The priest blamed the government for the unrest. "This situation could have been stopped earlier if government leaders had listened to each other, and consulted with each other," he said.

He added his hope that if President Jose Alexandre Gusmao "holds dialogue" with the rebels, this will stop the violence and refugees like the ones in his church grounds can go home.

Julio Da Costa, who had come to take refuge in the church, was distraught, saying his home had been burned down and he was unable to save anything. But he vowed, as he stood with his wife, daughter and two sons, not to perpetuate the violence. "What's gone is gone," he said. "I don't want to take revenge."

Gangs claiming to represent the two factions, armed with knives, swords, machetes, slingshots and some guns, have been burning homes and property and attacking people in this "east-west" conflict.

Analysts cite many potent factors in the current chaos - such as regional and ethnic rivalries, political factionalism, high unemployment and a culture of violence nurtured during 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation.

[With grateful acknowledgements to the Union of Catholic Asian News (<>UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency]


ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome

Date: 2006-05-31

Holy Father Appeals for Peace in East Timor

VATICAN CITY, MAY 31, 2006 ( Benedict XVI publicly appealed for peace in the Asian nation of East Timor.

"My thoughts now go to the beloved nation of East Timor, in these days in which tension and violence have caused victims and destruction," the Pope said at the end of today's general audience held in St. Peter's Square.

He encouraged the "the local Church and Catholic organizations to continue, together with other international organizations, in the task of their commitment to assistance of displaced peoples."

The Holy Father invited the 35,000 people in St. Peter's Square to "pray to the Blessed Virgin so that she will sustain with her maternal protection the efforts of all those who are contributing to the pacification of spirits and the return to normality."

The grave disturbances of the last 10 days between rebel soldiers and military men loyal to the government have left 23 dead and dozens wounded, as well as tens of thousands of people homeless.

Violence broke out after the dismissal of 600 of the army's 1,400 soldiers.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, suffers an unemployment rate of about 50%. The nation is about 90% Catholic.


Pope urges peace in East Timor

Vatican, May. 31 ( - At the conclusion of his public audience on Wednesday, May 31, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) issued a call for peace in East Timor, a nation "wracked by tension and violence which has caused victims and destruction."

The Pontiff encouraged both local Church groups and international organizations to rally support for people displaced by the latest violence in the small Pacific nation, where President Xanana Gusmao had declared a state of emergency the previous day. Gusmao has now assumed sole control over the armed forces, and promises to work with an international peacekeeping force to restore order.

The latest bloodshed in East Timor began in April, when government troops opened fire on demonstrators protesting economic conditions and alleged discrimination against certain regions. The shootings prompted some soldiers to desert the army, joining in a rebel group that demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. President Gusmao's assumption of sweeping powers may have been a unilateral move to end the conflict over government leadership.

As fighting continued, some government leaders issued appeals for international help, and troops from Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia as well as the former colonial power, Portugal, have joined in a peacekeeping force. By May 31, that force appeared to be succeeding in bringing some stability to Dili, the capital city, which had descended into chaotic violence. But an estimated 100,000 people have fled their homes.

The violence in East Timor comes just 4 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.

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