Subject: UCAN: Church Calls For Calm After Assassination Bids On President & Prime Minister

ET04435.1484 February 13, 2008 62 EM-lines (655 words)

EAST TIMOR Church Calls For Calm After Assassination Bids On President And Prime Minister

DILI (UCAN) -- With East Timor's president in intensive care in a hospital in Australia and the leader of military rebels dead, the bishop of Dili called on people to be calm and reject violence.

During the homily of a Mass he held Feb. 11 at a Dili hospital where wounded military personnel were being treated, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva joined Prime Minister Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao in appealing to the population to remain calm.

The bishop visited National Hospital Guido Valadares after rebel attacks that morning on both President Jose Ramos-Horta and Gusmao.

"I appeal to all people in the country to remain calm and not contribute to the problems or provoke the population," the bishop said during Mass after visiting injured soldiers and other patients in the hospital.

Ramos-Horta was critically injured when rebel soldiers attacked his residence in Dili around 6:15 a.m. on Feb. 11. According to reports, several presidential guards were injured, one seriously, and rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado was killed in the exchange of gunfire.

About an hour later, rebels stopped a convoy in which Gusmao was traveling and opened fire, but no one was injured. Gusmao, a respected former independence fighter, later described the assassination bids as "an attack on the state."

Australian soldiers, present in East Timor, or Timor Leste, as the mainstay of an international peacekeeping force, evacuated Ramos-Horta to Darwin, Australia. Media report he has undergone surgery for multiple gunshot wounds.

Bishop da Silva said he regretted the shooting of the president and asked all citizens to pray for his recovery. He urged followers of Reinado to take a peaceful path in solving their problems and said all people should see the incident as offering a major lesson to be learned.

He said the Church has been appealing to youths, especially supporters of Reinado, not to act with violence, because this will never solve any problem. "The Church is saddened over some people who use violence to attain their objectives," he added.

Oblate Father Cairus Banque, president of Dili diocese's Peace and Justice Commission, likewise condemned the attacks and violence in general.

"The Church would never support any action that uses violence, because the result of this would be death and injury," the priest told UCA News. He added that dialogue is the best way to solve a problem.

The attack on the president and prime minister "worsen our situation," he said. "People are panicked, fearful, and refugees will increase."

His commission would consult the bishops heading both dioceses in the country on the Church's response to the situation, Father Banque added, "but the Church is open to those who will seek (refuge) in church compounds."

The commission will also keep in contact with youth in Dili to help maintain peace in the capital, which at midweek remained quiet, with shops and public services closed.

Gusmao said in a press release: "The state urges the people to stay calm, to contribute to stability."

The prime minister stressed that he would not allow the country to become a "failed state," and he guaranteed peace and stability would be restored.

The Australian-led peacekeeping force has been in charge of security in the capital since the middle of 2006.

Peacekeepers were invited into the country to quell violent clashes between the police and military triggered by then-prime minister Mari Alkatiri's decision to sack a third of the armed forces.

At least 37 people were killed in several weeks of fighting and more than 150,000 were forced to flee their homes.

Reinado was charged with murder in connection with several shooting incidents during the violence. He was arrested but later escaped from jail and had been hiding in the mountains with a group of followers, refusing government pleas to surrender.

Dili is under an 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew until Feb. 20. Timor Leste's prosecutor general and the United Nations are investigating the attacks on the president and prime minister.

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