Subject: UCAN: East Timor jailbreak result of failed judicial system, say Catholic Church leaders

UCAN: East Timor jailbreak result of failed judicial system, say Catholic Church leaders



DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ­ Church leaders and other East Timorese say the escape of a rebel military leader and other prisoners from jail is the result of the government's inability to administer justice in the country.

Fears are mounting that violence may flare up again in the capital after Major Alfredo Reinado, a key figure in the revolt that plunged East Timor into chaos in May, broke out of a jail near Dili on Aug. 30. Some of the 56 other prisoners who escaped with him were charged in incidents of looting and burning during the May violence.

Father Martinho Gusmao, head of the commission for justice and peace of Baucau diocese, suggests that some of those who escaped could have felt unjustly punished for their role in the recent violence.

He told UCA News Aug. 31 that these people could have been "accidentally involved" in the violence, "but those people like former interior minister Rogerio Lobato and former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who should be held responsible ... are still free."

The priest added that the church is greatly concerned about how the jailbreak will affect national stability. "What the church can do now is to pray with the people for peace. Calling for peace is something the church has done many times, but violence still continues."

In his view the recent violence springs from the "leadership crisis" in the country, and the best way to "solve it is to uphold and speed up the judicial process for the masterminds of the violence."

Father Domingos Soares, spokesman for Dili Diocese, told the press Aug. 31 that the Jose Ramos-Horta government should ensure justice, because that is what people are seeking now for those involved in the recent violence. "If the government is not able to establish a good judicial system, then the consequence will be to lose the people's trust," he said.

Ramos-Horta, who was sworn in July 10 as prime minister, was foreign affairs minister under Alkatiri, who resigned under pressure on June 26.

Minister of Justice Domingos Sarmento said at an Aug. 31 press conference in his office that the Aug. 30 jailbreak occurred when visiting hours ended. "One of (the escapees) threatened some guards near the gate with a grass cutter saying, 'Open the door or you are dead.' Then the guards could not do anything, they just opened it and the prisoners ran away," Sarmento explained.

The minister added that he has asked the country's general procurator to contact airport and immigration authorities to prevent the escapees from leaving the country.

At a separate press conference, United Nations police commander Antero Lopes said that U.N. police and international peacekeepers are working together to recapture the prisoners. Sukehiro Hasegawa, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Timor Leste (East Timor), called on the escaped prisoners to return to jail or turn themselves over to international peacekeeping forces.

East Timorese who spoke to UCA News say they fear the jailbreak will worsen the already tense situation in the country.

"This has created fear in us, especially those still in refugee camps," remarked Celestino da Costa Alves, 43, who is living in a refugee camp in Dili because of the past months of violence.

The businessman said the Ramos-Horta administration made many promises but has not delivered on them. "A promise to install international police in hotspots has not been realized. How can we go home?" he asked. "Now, another problem. ... If something happens, we are all going to die for sure."

Rita dos Santos, 42, a mother of four who has been living in a refugee camp near Dili, said the government appears to have forgotten what led people to flee to refugee camps in the first place. The latest incident, she said, should serve to "alert the government" to the serious problems in the country.

Dili suffered a series of protests that evolved into widespread violence in May after Alkatiri dismissed 600 of the 1,400 members of East Timor's army. The 600 were protesting what they said was widespread discrimination against troops from the western part of the country. An estimated 150,000 people were displaced and at least 20 killed in the violence, which led to deployment of a 2,500-strong international peacekeeping force.

The United Nations agreed on Aug. 25 to deploy 1,608 more police in East Timor to shore up security. According to media reports, Ramos-Horta said he expects the mission to arrive in the fledgling nation within a month.

International media reported on Sept. 1 that gangs armed with stones and machetes clashed in Dili, and that at least eight people were wounded in the violence before international security forces arrived to restore order.

East Timor emerged as an independent nation in 2002 after more than two years under a transitional U.N. administration. An August 1999 referendum had brought an end to Indonesian rule, which began when Indonesian troops entered the territory in 1975 after the Portuguese colonial administration withdrew, ending more than four centuries of Portuguese rule.

The United Nations oversaw the elections that produced independent East Timor's first government. The country's first presidential and parliamentary elections as an independent nation are scheduled for 2007.

Catholics form an estimated 90 percent of the nearly 1 million population.

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