East Timor Update

Recent violence in East Timor is challenging for our church partners.

 

ImageRecent violence in East Timor is challenging for our church partners.

In March of 2006 several hundred of the East Timor military went on strike. The strike was precipitated by increasing feelings among those from the west that they were suffering discrimination that favored eastern soldiers when it came to recruitment and promotions. The military leadership encouraged them to return to their posts and to pursue their grievances from within the system. Their refusal to return to duty led to the dismissal on March 17 of 600 of the army’s 1400 soldiers. Some have claimed that the issue is more complicated than the east v. west grievances that the soldiers cited. The nation has been unable to climb out of poverty or overcome development challenges since gaining its independence from Indonesia in 1999. Forty percent of the population lives in poverty and there are few employment opportunities other than agriculture. Half the population has no access to safe water and infant mortality statistics are appalling – 90 of every 1000 babies do not live to see their first birthday. Many are blaming the failed government of Mr. Alkatiri, the Prime Minister, who has thus far refused to resign.

Recent agreements with Australia on oil-resource sharing in the Timor Sea has given some hope that the economy may begin to improve and the government may soon be able to provide better services, including healthcare and education.

In April, the growing resentment among the dismissed soldiers led to demonstrations which in recent days have become riots. President Xanana Gusmao has taken control of national security. Emergency powers will give him control of the army and the police which have suffered internal splits and gang violence. Gang violence has led to killings and burning of homes and businesses in the capital.

Rev. Fransisco Di Valconcelos, Moderator of the Protestant Church in East Timor, reports that many city residents have taken to the hills for the time being, but he expects they will return to Dili within the next several days. Francisco anticipates that there will be need for very short-term aid to help people get food and reestablish their lives. There has been a lot of looting of the homes left by those who fled Dili, so they don’t know what they’ll be coming back to, nor is it at all clear what kind of public resources will be available to help people resume their lives. Francisco says he will be in touch once he has returned to Dili and can assess the situation.

Contributions to the East Timor Church’s relief and development programs can be made through designated donations through the Division of Overseas Ministries or Wider Church Ministries.

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