Aid Group Buildings in East Timor Set Ablaze

( [email protected] ) Aug 14, 2007 05:37 AM EDT

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) has called for calm in East Timor amid the violence that has rumbled on since Xanana Gusmao was appointed to be the new prime minister by the country’s new president, Jose Ramos-Horta.

Around 1,000 East Timorese have been forced to flee from their homes – many hiding in the mountains and in need of food and clean water – after gangs went on the rampage torching homes and setting up menacing road blocks. Church and government property have also come under fire.

Gangs rampaged in the capital, Dili, but the worst violence was in Baucau 80 miles to the east, where buildings housing the offices of international aid groups and government agencies were set ablaze, said police inspector Pedro Belo.

The offices of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CAFOD’s sister agency, have been burnt to the ground in Baucau and an internally displaced persons camp served by CAFOD partners has seen “significant unrest and destruction,” reported CAFOD.

“We are calling for calm in East Timor. Our support and sympathy goes to our partners who have suffered through the violence and we hope to see calm return to the country,” said Alex Cooney, CAFOD’s Southeast Asia program manager

"There is much hope for East Timor, and these elections have been a big step forward. We have long been involved in East Timor and remain committed to partnership in one of the world’s newest nation.”

Ramos-Horta made the decision last week to appoint Gusmao as leader of a new governing coalition after no single party won a majority in parliamentary elections held on June 30.

Supporters of the former ruling party, Fretilin, have staged violent protests to express their opposition to the new coalition. The party believes it has the right to rule because it secured the most votes in the June polls.

Joaozito Viana from Luta Hamutuk (“Struggle Together”), a CAFOD partner focusing on economic justice, said: “We urge the Government to keep talking with the Fretilin Party to resolve the security problems.

“It is important that all political parties are involved and work together to resolve constitutional problems,” Viana added.

“We hope these issues can be solved through dialogue and not through violence.”

CAFOD has worked in East Timor for over 20 years, supporting the people during some of the hardest times in their bid for independence.

Throughout the turbulent 1990s, CAFOD’s partners played an important role in the social and economic development of East Timor.