Subject: Church joins fray in Timor


Church joins fray in Timor

Mark Dodd

May 17, 2006

THE Catholic Church in East Timor has held talks with the country's former UN ambassador, Jose Luis Guterres, who is today challenging Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for his job at a national congress of the ruling Fretilin party.

Mr Alkatiri, a Muslim prime minister in a staunchly Catholic country, said he would resign if he were voted out. But fears are growing that a leadership spill could be the trigger for renewed political violence and instability involving pro- and anti-government supporters.

Fretilin, the former political front of armed resistance to Indonesian occupation, won 57.4per cent of the vote in the 2001 elections and holds 55 seats in the country's 88-seat assembly, but is heavily factionalised.

Almost 600 disgruntled soldiers scattered into the mountains in the wake of bloody riots last month that left at least five killed, dozens injured and more than 60 houses destroyed or damaged, including Government Palace.

Other groups have expressed sympathy to their plight, including 15 heavily armed military police led by an Australian-trained army major, Alfredo Reinaldo.

Last Saturday, the revered Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento, held talks with Mr Guterres, a Fretilin political moderate.

Although the church has not publicly endorsed any candidate, its loathing of the Alkatiri-led Government is well known. Mr Guterres's moderate credentials are likely to find favour with conservative clergy.

The church is also angry at a decision to drop criminal trials involving pro-Jakarta militia atrocities committed during the 1999 independence vote.

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