Subject: AKI: ET Christians Should Respect The Muslim Minority, Says Premier

EAST TIMOR: CHRISTIANS SHOULD RESPECT THE MUSLIM MINORITY, SAYS PREMIER

Dili, 20 Oct. (AKI) - As the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan draws to a close, the constant harassment of the 500 Muslims, sheltered in the Annur Mosque in Dili, the capital of East Timor, has been condemned by East Timor's prime minister, Jose Ramos-Horta. In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Horta said that Christians should respect the Muslim minority and the attacks that have occurred since the riots erupted in the country in May must stop.

"I condemn these attacks against our Muslims brothers and sisters who are now on their holy fasting month. In this period, more than ever, we should show our respect to them because they are minority," Horta told AKI.

Together with the Philippines, East Timor is the only predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia. According to a local Muslim official, there are only 2,452 Muslims in East Timor. However, according to the CIA Fact Book and several other sources, Muslims form four percent of the roughly one million inhabitants.

"We have very good relationship with our Muslims in East Timor. Every year our president [Xanana Gusmao] and our Catholic religious leaders and I have celebrated the end of the fasting period [Eid-ul Fitr] with them," Horta added.

The 500 Muslims sheltered in the mosque are part of the thousands who have been forced to flee their homes after the violence erupted in the former Portuguese colony last May.

A dispute within the army started the widespread riots that eventually led to the fall of former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's government and the deployment of foreign troops to East Timor.

As AKI was able to confirm, the Muslims have been the subject of constant harassment and sporadic violence by a mob of Christian youths, who often act under the influence of alcohol.

"We have been attacked many times," Annur Mosque Coordinator, Anwar da Costa, told AKI.

He then blamed the United Nations Police (UNIPOL) for failing to protect them.

"UNIPOL is doing nothing for us. Many of my people in the mosque were attacked. Some of them were serious injured during the fasting month," he added.

UNIPOL Commissioner, Portuguese police superintendent, Antero Lopes said that he had received information and complaints from the Muslim community and confirmed that UNIPOL will conduct routine patrols around the Annur Mosque area.

"The protection of the Muslim community is one of our programmes. I believe that daily contact will be intensified," he told AKI.

In the meantime, the president of the Muslim Community Centre of East Timor, Arif Abdullah Sagranm, forgave the attackers and minimised the problem.

"We forgive those who have attacked us because Islam loves peace and stability," he said, adding that the attacks hadn't had a serious impact on the celebration of the fasting month.

He then told AKI that, due to the crisis in East Timor, Eid-ul Fitr [the day that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan] was going to be celebrated with only a simple ceremony.

"We will celebrate Eid-ul Fitr next Tuesday in a simply way. We will not invite our formal leaders including the East Timor Catholic Church leaders," he said.

(Fsc/Gui/Aki)

Oct-20-06 11:37


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