Subject: UCAN: Church tries to foster reconciliation, but the wound heals slowly

August 9,2006

Church tries to foster reconciliation, but the wound heals slowly

BAUCAU, East Timor (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church is trying to ease tempers and seek reconciliation in a country still divided by bitter factionalism.

Alicia Maria Gusmao experienced that factionalism, pitting "easterners" against "westerners" in this new country of a million people, first hand.

The 37-year-old Dili shopkeeper and mother of 10 recently left the refugee camp where she was staying in Metinaro, 20 kilometers west of Dili, to return home. On arrival, her neighbor pelted her with stones and she found the words "No Firaku Here" spray-painted on her house wall. Gusmao and her husband are "firaku," westerners, but her neighbors are "kaladi," easterners.

Such hostility manifested itself in April after former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri sacked about 600 soldiers from East Timor's western side who had complained of discrimination. The ensuing mutiny of nearly half the army led to armed clashes and gang violence, pitting locals from eastern and western sides of the country against one another.

Alkatiri, who claims the mutiny was an attempted coup, was blamed for the violence and resigned on June 26. Jose Ramos-Horta replaced him and will continue as prime minister until elections are held next year.

While politicians try to mend fences, thousands of people remain displaced by the violence.

Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau says the Church understands the problem Gusmao faces. The Church is trying to help reunite the people, he told UCA News on Aug. 6, but it takes time to reconcile those in confrontation.

Catholics account for more than 90 percent of the people in East Timor, which has been a fully independent country only since May 2002.

"As Catholics, they will try to accept and forgive other Catholics," the 56-year-old bishop said. However, he added, the conflict has left a "deep wound" for those who lost relatives, homes and property.

Bishop do Nascimento said he is pessimistic about healing the "wound" in the short term. In his view, reconciliation is a long-term healing process.

To heal the injuries, he pointed out, "reconciliation should go along with justice." He has been urging people not to make judgments on their own, but to let the courts decide who is wrong and who is right.

After Gusmao's harrowing experience back home, he returned dejected to Dili and now shelters from the sun under a yellow tarpaulin in Colmera, another refugee camp, in the center of the capital.

Celestino Profiro da Silva, 35, faces a similar problem. He told UCA News he "tried to go back home accompanied by Australian Federal Police, but I was not given space to live there." His neighbor has taken over his home, he said.

Stuck in the same camp as Gusmao, he said he was willing to reconcile with others, but all who have committed crimes should be charged. "The problem is not really between those from the east and west," he said. "It is a political game of those who want to take advantage of this crisis," referring to fears that politicians stirred up the conflict for their own gain.

Salesian Father Agostino Soares, head of the justice and peace commission of Dili diocese, told UCA News the Church tries to encourage reconciliation through seminars and discussions in refugee camps, but the camps remain a stark reminder that the conflict has yet to heal.

The Church is concerned about security because the conflict between the gangs continues, he added. "The Church is trying to calm down the parties, and the Church continues to stress the need for unity," he said.

According to Father Soares, people want to see justice and a reckoning for all who committed crimes. The priest said the victims would be satisfied with a "public confession" and a request for forgiveness by the culprits.

The presence of international forces for two months has made Dili calmer and more secure, but many still assume the government has not solved fundamental issues that split easterners and westerns, and they want justice to be done.

The more than 2,000 peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal are keeping the peace, but it is hard to erase the weeks of clashes, looting and arson in which at least 20 people died and 100,000 were displaced.

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