Church people, refugees want end to violence in East Timor


Church people and refugees in East Timor are hoping foreign troops will be able to end the violence that has seen thousands of residence take refuge in church and NGO-run centers, reported UCA News.

Trouble flared in East Timor in April after the government fired more than one-third of its 1,400-member army. Close to 600 soldiers were dismissed after they went on strike claiming discrimination and a lack of promotion.

The violence the erupted in and around Dili has pitted government forces against dismissed army soldiers and their supporters. Several people have been killed and the sound of gunfire echoed through streets. As a result, the capital has emptied and its residents have fled for safe haven, many to church-related centers, such as the Don Bosco Center, 10 kilometers to the west.

Press reports say foreign troops including Australian and Malaysian soldiers have landed in East Timor, following a call by the government for assistance. New Zealand is sending two military aircraft and some troops to assist with evacuations and troop transport, while Portugal reportedly is sending 120 military police.

About 9,000 East Timorese have taken refuge at the Don Bosco Center, where volunteers have had to stop armed fighters from entering the compound.

Br. Adriano Maria D'Jesus, 35, a Salesian and the skills-training center's coordinator, told UCA News apart from his volunteers disarming people who come into the compound, his immediate concern is the health of the thousands of children at the center.

"This is the rainy season and we are concerned about the condition of the children who have to sleep on the floors of our center," he said. "There are not enough mosquito nets," he added.

Br. D'Jesus said the Catholic Church's Caritas agency, World Vision International and other aid groups are trying to help the refugees.

Violence is still fresh for many East Timorese. Following the August 1999 referendum in which voters chose independence from Indonesia, pro-Jakarta militias went on a rampage, killing hundreds of people and destroying infrastructure. Indonesia then relinquished control of the former Portuguese colony, which it had brought under its rule in 1975. After more than two years under a transitional United Nations administration, Catholic-majority East Timor became an independent country in May 2002. The country’s population is one million.

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