Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 5 News List

President appeals to church for help

EXODUS The president of East Timor appealed to two Roman Catholic bishops to urge their flocks not to flee the capital amid widespread fears of further unrest


East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao sought help from church leaders yesterday to persuade panicky residents of the capital, Dili, who have fled their homes on riot rumors 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 UN said five people were killed and at least 60 were injured in the April 30 riots that broke out in Dili after the East Timor government dismissed 594 soldiers.

As many as 14,000 people fled their homes and sought refuge in churches after last week's riots.

"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," he said.

Meanwhile the UN envoy for East Timor said on Friday that last week's rioting showed the fragility of the country and demonstrated the need for a UN presence to help the country maintain peace and stability ahead of national elections next year.

In a report to the Security Council, UN special representative Sukehiro Hasegawa said that while the people and leaders of East Timor have made "significant achievements" over the past five years in consolidating peace and democracy, the country's institutions are "increasingly challenged" to address the grievances of various groups and the rising expectations of people.

"The latest developments have reminded us that not only is democracy in East Timor still fragile, but ... the internal security situation [is] easily assailable," he said.

The UN mission that helped to build government infrastructure in areas from finance to security and also provided support for the training of border troops and a framework for the protection of human rights is set to expire on May 20.

Hasegawa echoed the recommendation made in a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to create a UN office that would continue assistance and support of the mission's objectives for one year, immediately following the end of the mandate.

Hasegawa said the root causes of the rioting in East Timor included "an institutional incapability to address the grievances" of the soldiers, unemployment and poverty.

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