Subject: UCAN: Prime Minister Asks Church To Be Mediator Between Government And Rebels

ET02103.1436 March 14, 2007

EAST TIMOR Prime Minister Asks Church To Be Mediator Between Government And Rebels

DILI (UCAN) -- Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta met Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili on March 12 to explain the government's stand regarding Major Alfredo Alves Reinado, and to ask the Church to serve as mediator in negotiations with the rebel leader.

"I heard that Major Reinado has expressed his willingness to dialogue with the government should the Catholic Church be the mediator. So I met Bishop Ricardo da Silva to explain the government's stand on this case," Ramos-Horta told media on March 13.

Up to now, according to the prime minister, the government of Timor Leste (East Timor) has not initiated any contact with the fugitive military leader, or vice versa.

Last May, Dili suffered a series of protests that evolved into widespread violence after then-prime minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed 600 of the 1,400 members of the army, who were protesting what they said was widespread discrimination against troops from the western part of the country.

Reinado, a key figure in the revolt that plunged Timor Leste into chaos, broke out of a jail near Dili on Aug. 30 with 56 other prisoners, some of whom were charged in incidents of looting and burning during the May violence.

Ramos-Horta asserted that if the rebel group leader surrenders and hands over all weapons, the government will directly stop its military operations against him, and will protect and treat him humanely, in line with the country's constitution.

"I asked the Catholic Church to help the government in negotiating differences with Major Reinado," the prime minister said. "Major Reinado should realize that this country has law and justice."

A few days earlier, Father Domingos Soares Maubere, spokesperson for Dili diocese, told reporters the Catholic Church was ready to mediate between the government and the rebel group if officially asked by both parties.

He pointed out that the Church recently issued a peace message signed by the bishops heading the country's two dioceses -- Bishops da Silva and Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau -- and Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to Timor Leste. The message calls on all people to build a culture of peace and mutual respect.

Father Maubere also expressed concern about refugees who have been staying in tents for almost a year because of the prolonged violence.

An estimated 150,000 people were displaced and at least 20 killed in the violence last May, which led to the deployment of a 2,500-strong international peacekeeping force from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal.

International security forces backed by helicopters raided a rebel hideout on March 4 and killed four suspected insurgents, according to media reports. But President Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao acknowledged Reinado had escaped the predawn raid. "The international security forces are continuing to hunt for him," he told reporters.

Responding to the Catholic Church's statement of readiness to mediate dialogue, Major Reinado told the local newspaper Timor Post on March 12 from his hideout that he was very happy to hear this.

According to him, the Church has a special place in the people's hearts. "I believe that the Catholic Church, as an independent body, will be a good mediator for the dialogue," local media quoted him as saying. "I believe that Bishop do Nascimento and Bishop Ricardo da Silva will be good mediators, and the dialogue will bear fruit," he said.

Catholics form an estimated 96 percent of Timor Leste's 1 million people.

Meanwhile, Pedro da Costa, chairperson of Fraksi Partai Sosial Timor (Timor socialist party), told UCA News on March 9 that he supports a mediating role for the Catholic Church. However, he suggested the government and rebel group first resolve the basic cause of the violence. "If it cannot be resolved, the dialogue will not be able to settle any differences," he maintained.

Timor Leste emerged as an independent nation in 2002, after more than two years under a transitional U.N. administration. This process was set in motion by an August 1999 referendum in which more than 80 percent of voters opted for independence from Indonesia, which sent troops into the territory in 1975 after the Portuguese colonial administration withdrew. Portugal rule had lasted more than four centuries.

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

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