Subject: RT: Timor leader asks church to calm fleeing residents

Also AP: East Timor's president appeals to Catholic church to help restore calm

Timor leader asks church to calm fleeing residents

06 May 2006 06:02:31 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Lirio da Fonseca

DILI, May 6 (Reuters) - East Timor President Xanana Gusmao sought help from church leaders on Saturday to persuade panicky residents of the capital, Dili, who have fled their homes on riot rumours to return.

Thousands of Dili residents have taken refuge in their hometowns and villages over the past few days following widespread fears of a repeat of riots that hit the predominantly Catholic country last week.

The United Nations said five people were killed and at least 60 were injured in the April 30 riots that broke out in Dili after the cash-strapped East Timor government dismissed 594 soldiers. Protesters burned cars, threw rocks at police and officers fired at the crowd then.

As many as 14,000 people fled their homes and sought refuge in churches after last week's riots. It is unclear how many of those residents return to their homes before the latest exodus.

"I have met with two bishops to ask churches across Timor to advise the East Timor people during tomorrow's Sunday mass to come back to their homes. Don't let Dili become empty," Gusmao told reporters, referring to the bishops of the country's two Catholic dioceses -- Dili and Baucau.

"I have tried to block the people who wanted to go to the regions, but they did not take heed because they said their security is not guaranteed," said the former freedom fighter.

Dili was quiet on Saturday with public transport running and markets open. However, some shops were seen closed.

On Friday, East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told the U.N. Security Council that with presidential and parliamentary elections due by May 2007, the country needed at least a company of international police until then because of "the volatility and fragility of the situation."

A company is typically 75 to 150 police.

East Timor became independent four years ago after centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and 2-½ years of U.N. administration.

U.N. peacekeepers left a year ago and the U.N. mission, which once numbered 11,000 troops and civilians, was scaled back to 130 administrators, police and military advisers. The mission is now scheduled to shut down on May 20.

"Dili is on the edge. Fear is palpable among a people traumatised by past violence. There are concerns about the ability of the PNTL (local police) to maintain law and order," Ramos-Horta said in New York on Friday.

Australia, which led a U.N.-backed intervention force to East Timor in 1999 to quell violence by pro-Indonesian militias after East Timorese voted for independence from Jakarta, has indicated its willingness to send troops to the world's youngest state if necessary.

Australia led a United Nations-backed intervention force to East Timor in 1999 to suppress violence by pro-Indonesian militias after East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia.

(Reporting by Lirio da Fonseca; Writing by Achmad Sukarsono; editing by Sugita Katyal;; +6221 384-6364))


AP: East Timor's president appeals to Catholic church to help restore calm

05/06/2006 04:16:13 AM EDT

DILI, East Timor_East Timor's president appealed to the Catholic church on Saturday to help restore calm to the fledgling country after thousands of residents fled the capital fearing violence between authorities and disgruntled ex-soldiers.

President Xanana Gusmao asked Bishops Basilio do Nascimento and Alberto Ricardo da Silva to tell churchgoers during services Sunday to "please come back to Dili ... because now the situation is better."

Unrest started in East Timor a week ago when a conflict between nearly 600 dismissed soldiers and the military escalated into rioting that killed five and destroyed dozens of houses.

Calm returned to the streets a day later, but rumors the soldiers were planning an attack sparked panic among thousands of Dili residents who fled to nearly villages.

The soldiers _ who had made up a third of the entire army _ say they have been discriminated against and threatened to wage guerrilla warfare if they were not reinstated with improved conditions. In response, the government on Friday established a commission to investigate the claims.

Gusmao on Saturday also called on three dozen active military police and army forces, who left with their weapons, to return to their barracks and "not to do anything wrong."

U.N. and government officials have called the rumors false, hinting they may have been spread intentionally to cause unrest.

One of the military commanders who left Dili for the surrounding hills, Maj. Alfredo Fernandes, told local television Saturday the soldiers had no violent plans and would return once the conflict had been resolved.

"I will be back to the barracks after the government solves the petitioner's problem and offer a good solution to their demands," Fernandes told East Timor broadcaster RTTL.

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