Subject: UCAN: Australian peacekeeping soldiers vandalize Catholic church, priest charges

UCAN: Australian peacekeeping soldiers vandalize Catholic church, priest charges


UCANews ( )

AILEU, East Timor (UCAN) – A priest in Timor Leste has accused Australian troops of forcing their way into his church building and destroying some property in their search for a rebel leader.

"About 2 a.m. of March 23, fully armed Australian soldiers came here when the electricity was off. They went around the church, kicked the backdoor and forcedly entered. They thought we had hidden the rebel leader there," Father Heremenio Gonsalves said on March 23. He spoke to reporters from UCA News and other media organizations at his residence in the Sts. Peter and Paul Church compound in Aileu, just southwest of Dili.

The soldiers ruined the church door and also destroyed property as they ransacked an adjoining guest room under the same roof as the church, Father Gonsalves explained.

The priest was not sure of the number of Australian soldiers who raided the church. "I just heard their shouts saying that Alfredo is inside the church, to hunt for him inside the church," the priest recounted.

Alfredo Alves Reinado, who led a revolt that plunged Timor Leste into chaos last April, has evaded capture by the Australian-led international peacekeeping force in Timor Leste, which was known as East Timor. He has been a fugitive since he escaped from a Dili jail in August along with 50 other inmates.

Father Gonsalves suspects the Australian soldiers thought Reinado was hiding in the church because many journalists covering the presidential election campaign stopped there the previous day on their way to Suai. The election is scheduled for April 9.

"The Australian soldiers might have thought the journalists came to interview Reinado," Father Gonsalves said, questioning how the Australian soldiers could even think the Catholic Church would harbor a fugitive in a place of worship.

"It is not proper," he said of the Australian soldiers' action, urging them to respect and not destroy places of worship in performing their duty.

The priest said he would ask President Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta to look into the incident. He said he would also ask Bishops Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, whose dioceses cover the country, to tell the Australian soldiers not to storm into his church again.

The mutiny in April 2006 led to months of arson, looting and gang violence, pitting locals from eastern and western parts of the country against one another. At least 20 people died and 100,000 were displaced. Since then, international peacekeepers from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal have been stationed in the country.

On March 4, hundreds of young men blocked roads ion the Dili area and burned tires in support of Reinado. This came after a predawn raid on the rebel leader's hideout by international troops, who failed to capture Reinado.

Timor Leste, where Catholics form 96 percent of about 1 million people, has faced decades of violence, especially under Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999. It became a fully independent nation in 2002 after a couple of years under the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.

Father Gonsalves said Indonesian troops during the occupation were not "rude like the bule (white) soldiers, who entered the church kicking and destroying the house of worship."

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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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