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East Timor - Update 2

5 July 1999

Forwarded on behalf of Caritas Aotearoa/NZ

Media Release
Caritas Aotearoa/NZ


A Wellington priest and Caritas Volunteer, Fr Gerard Burns, was part of the aid convoy which was attacked yesterday in Liquica, East Timor, by a paramilitary group who oppose independence.

Speaking this morning from Dili Fr Gerard said that "It felt like an ambush. I don't know for certain if it was a premeditated attack, but that's what it seemed to be."

Fr Gerard Burns is in East Timor as part of a joint initiative by Caritas Australia and Caritas Aotearoa/NZ, who are sending personnel to East Timor to help in the distribution of aid, to provide trauma counselling and teaching services, to help monitor the human rights situation there, and to provide solidarity for the victims of violence.

The convoy was made up of a collection of NGOs in East Timor, and included Caritas which is the Catholic Church's agency for development, justice and peace. Caritas is engaged in a major relief programme for Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs).

The convoy, of 14 trucks and 10 cars, was distributing food and medical supplies to people in the isolated areas outside of the territory's capital, Dili. As it passed through Liquica, the site of previous massacres by paramilitary and military, the convoy stopped for water. There they were attacked by the Besah Meri Putih paramilitary group who have an office close by to where the convoy stopped.

The paramilitary had machetes and small home-made pistols, and proceeded to slash and punch in their attack on the convoy. Fr Gerry was unharmed, but shaken. No other foreigners in the convoy were harmed, but 5 or 6 of the convoy members, all East Timorese, are missing. One of those is a Caritas East Timor staff member.

At one stage Fr Gerard stood in the road between escaping convoy members and the pursuing paramilitary. This brave action had the effect of slowing down the paramilitary. Fr Gerard believes that because he is a foreigner, a priest, and stood out, being dressed all in white that day, this may have helped slow down the paramilitary whose main targets seemed to be the East Timorese in the convoy.

Fr Gerard is back in Dili today awaiting a debriefing on the incident by the UN and news of the missing East Timorese convoy members.


Contact: Louise May, Caritas Aotearoa/NZ, dd 04 496 1765 or 04 496 1742

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