Subject: Following Violence In Baucau, Church Offers Youths Peace Training

October 15, 2007

EAST TIMOR Following Violence In Baucau, Church Offers Youths Peace Training

BAUCAU, East Timor (UCAN) -- Baucau diocese says it had to respond when young men armed with machetes, sticks and bottles of gasoline burnt down 600 homes and raped girls at a local convent school in early August.

The next month, the diocese sent trainers into the community and into camps where thousands sought shelter after the violence. The mission of the trainers is to conduct a three-month program that builds peace.

Father Jose Filipe de Araujo admitted to UCA News, "We could have avoided violence if this kind of formation started earlier, but it's never too late."

Baucau diocese invited Father de Araujo to run a program in Baucau as he had done in Dili diocese. In that first program he arranged peace training for the traumatized community in and around the capital after violence erupted there in 2006.

"Given our experience with violence, we now should look forward to improving the situation," the Dili diocesan priest said on Oct. 2 in Baucau , 120 kilometers east of Dili. The two dioceses cover East Timor, officially Timor Leste in Portuguese, where more than 90 percent of the people are Catholics.

Violence began in Baucau when Fretilin party supporters went on a rampage following an announcement on Aug. 5 that independence hero Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao would be appointed prime minister.

Fretilin won the most votes in the June national election, but its 21 seats in the 65-member parliament were far short of the majority needed to form a government. Gusmao's party picked up only 18 seats but then formed an alliance with three other parties to create a parliamentary majority.

Young supporters in Baucau, a Fretilin stronghold, felt their party had been cheated, so they went rampaging Aug. 7-9, burning homes and attacking Church and government buildings. On Aug. 10, a gang raped nine young girls at the Salesian-run convent school in Baguia subdistrict, 40 kilometers south of Baucau. More than 3,000 people fled their homes.

According to Father de Araujo, the peacebuilding program "is done in small discussion groups of 10-20 trainees from different communities." Assisting them are lay volunteers from Dili universities, as well as priest and nuns, and members of the diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace.

Participants learn about and discuss conflict resolution, human rights and peacebuilding. They also visit sites where violence erupted, and reflect on why such incidents happened and what they could do to prevent a reoccurrence.

The first group of 60 young people and parents went on "exposure" visits to burnt houses and refugee camps, and Joao da Silva, a 23-year-old participant, told UCA News he benefited greatly from the program.

"Before attending the training, I used to use violence to solve problems," he said, but now he knows it is crucial to "solve problems with a cool head."

Julmira de Jesus, 20, has made a commitment to influence other youths in her area to reject violence and welcome peace, yet she appreciates it is hard to counter the influence of people manipulating youths for their own purposes.

"It is a really hard responsibility," de Jesus told UCA News, "but with the presence of Jesus I believe one day this country will be peaceful."

Rogerio da Costa, 35, a training coordinator in Baucau diocese, told UCA News on Oct. 11 that the training is very important for the young people, and for all who hold responsibility in the community and in the family, too.

The family is the first place of learning and the community is where one interacts with others, he said, "so it is very important to involve those two elements, community leaders and family members." His hope, he added is that the trainees "become a model to the rest of the community."

Timor Leste, a former Portuguese colony, gained independence from its subsequent Indonesian rulers in 1999. It emerged as a fully independent nation in May 2002, after a preparatory period under a transitional United Nations administration. Though the country has significant offshore oil and gas reserves, it faces major security, humanitarian and economic challenges, and its unemployment rate stands at more than 50 percent.


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