Subject: UCAN: Bishop says East Timor church welcomes new PMís offer to work with gov't

UCAN: Bishop says East Timor church welcomes new PMís offer to work with govít for peace


UCANews (

DILI, East Timor (UCAN) ≠ Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili has hailed East Timor's new prime minister for inviting the Catholic Church to help his government work for peace and development.

On Aug. 8, just after a ceremony at which Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao was sworn in as prime minister, Bishop da Silva told UCA News he welcomes Gusmao's invitation and has promised to collaborate with the new government.

The bishop also noted that Gusmao promised to give financial help to the church in the Catholic-majority country, "and the church welcomes it."

The new prime minister, a former leader of the resistance against Indonesian occupation, pledged in his speech to unify the country, which remains divided a year after a military mutiny led to sectarian clashes and gang warfare.

In Portuguese, 61-year-old Gusmao promised to work with civil society as well as church and other religious institutions to bring peace to the nation.

He said the government "invites the Catholic Church" to help "change violent mentalities, and to help create a culture of peace, tolerance and freedom by educating Timorese, working for human development and reducing poverty."

Gusmao also said his government, which will run the country until 2012, will provide financial assistance to the Catholic Church to support its own work.

Bishop da Silva said he expects the new government to pursue dialogue with Major Alfredo Alves Reinado, a former military police chief, and with others.

Reinado and his followers, now fugitives, attacked a military base near Dili in May 2006 after riots erupted in the capital, leaving more than 20 people dead and 100,000 homeless. Reinado was apprehended a month later, but escaped from prison after three months.

According to the bishop, another priority for Gusmao's government is to send home all who were displaced by the unrest and still live in makeshift camps.

The violence has not ceased in East Timor, locally known as Timor Leste.

Just after President Jose Ramos-Horta announced that he had chosen Gusmao to become prime minister on Aug. 5, Fretilin party supporters began throwing rocks and blocked roads with burning tires on many Dili streets.

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 govern. Gusmao's party picked up just 18 seats, but it later formed an alliance with three other parties to form a parliament majority.

Fretilin's leaders are still demanding the right to form the government.

Media have cited a police spokesman saying sporadic violence has occurred in parts of Dili as well as in Baucau, a town considered a Fretilin stronghold, 122 kilometers (about 75 miles) east of Dili. According to the spokesman, a foreign-aid agency and a district court were among several buildings set on fire.

A United Nations spokesman has told media that four U.N. officers were among those injured in attacks "regrettably" being committed by Fretilin supporters.

International media say that as of Aug. 10, as many as 4,000 people fled their homes and about 600 houses have been torched in Baucau and in Viqueque, 183 kilometers (about 115 miles) east of Dili, since Gusmao's appointment was announced.

The Caritas Australia website ( reports that church properties have been burned and some priests are rumored to be attack targets.

Lamenting the violent protests, Bishop da Silva said people are tired of the yearlong violence and it is time for citizens to live in peace. "There are democratic ways to protest something, not through violence," he asserted.

The bishop also expressed a wish that Timorese people, especially Fretilin supporters, begin to work together to build a better future for the country.

After breaking away from decades of Indonesian rule in 1999 and formally declaring statehood in 2002, East Timor still must contend with major security, humanitarian and economic challenges. Though it has significant offshore oil and gas reserves, its unemployment rate is about 50 percent.

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