Aid agencies alarmed at growing violeence in East Timor

 CAFOD and other agencies have expressed grave concern over escalating violence in East Timor. Unrest in East Timor followed a decision in March to sack almost 600 soldiers for going on strike over working conditions and claims they were overlooked for promotion. In recent days the dismissed soldiers, who make up around a third of East Timor's army have launched fresh attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Dili, and two people were killed during violent clashes on Tuesday. Thousands of people have fled Dili fearing further violence. CAFOD's Programme Manager for South East Asia, Alexandra Cooney, said: "I was living in East Timor until March of this year. The soldiers were sacked just before I left and tensions were certainly high at the time, but I'm shocked and deeply saddened by how far the situation has deteriorated. "We have heard from our partner organisations in East Timor, such as Caritas Dili and NGO Forum, that thousands of people have fled the capital because of the riots. Many are now either staying with family elsewhere in the country or in temporary camps set up on the outskirts of the city. Heavy rain falls have added to problems - one camp was flooded following a torrential downpour last week. "People are extremely traumatised by what they are seeing and very concerned for their own safety. "We have also heard from our sister agency, Catholic Relief Services, that the US embassy has begun pulling out American staff because of the heightened security threat and others are on standby for evacuation should the situation get any worse." Alexandra said that the deteriorating security situation made it very difficult for CAFOD's partners to continue their good work. "While our partners remain determined to carry on, they have had to scale back their work because of the riots. We are in close contact with them and will continue to monitor the situation very carefully. Our partners and the people of East Timor are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this time." East Timor is due to hold elections early next year. "Even before this latest bout of violence, there was serious concern among international agencies and the UN about increased tension in the run up to the elections", explained Alexandra. "These will be the second elections East Timor has held since gaining independence in 1999 and they are crucial in the consolidation of democracy here. The current situation is therefore of grave concern. We hope that it can be resolved soon so the East Timorese can look forward to elections that are free from violence." CAFOD has been working in East Timor since 1989. The agency's partner organisations have played a significant role in the country's development since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 1999. Australian news services reported last night that Australia is planning to send 1,300 troops to the area to help restore peace.

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