Subject: RT: International police in East Timor neutral - commander

International police in East Timor neutral - commander

By Jerry Norton

DILI, Aug 14 (Reuters) - An international force of some 600 police from four countries in troubled East Timor is staying out of the tiny young nation's politics, its commander said on Monday.

The police began arriving in East Timor at the end of May following weeks of violence that left more than 20 people dead and saw widespread looting and arson that continued into June, until the foreign police and an international force of regular military brought a modicum of order.

Steve Lancaster, chief of the units from Portugal, Malaysia, New Zealand and his own Australia, told reporters he was "concerned about some rumours of international police taking sides, supporting one group over another".

"We're an independent police force and act impartially," he said, without getting involved in the east-west regional issues at the root of much of the violence in East Timor, which became a full-fledged nation in 2002.

Some of the rumours suggested police from Portugal, the country's colonial ruler until 1975, favoured the eastern region over the western.

The latter area is perceived by some as leaning toward Indonesia, East Timor's immediate neighbour which occupied it in 1975. Its iron-fisted control ended in a 1999 vote for independence marked by bloodshed attributed mainly to pro-Indonesia militias backed by Indonesian military elements.

Lancaster, however, said the rumours were broader.

"It's not just the Portuguese."

"There have been some accusations also relating to the international forces in general", with actions against one particular group or another interpreted as taking sides, Lancaster said.

In fact, "if people are caught continuing to make trouble, fight or to carry dangerous weapons, wherever they come from or whoever they are, they will be captured and will face prosecution," he said.

He said the international police had arrested about 220 people since arriving, and had a significant impact.

"...always remember 11 weeks ago and compare it to now and the difference is quite remarkable."

Reports of sporadic clashes and arson in East Timor continue, however, and more than 100,000 Timorese remain in camps rather than returning to homes where they fear for their safety.

East Timor's own police have been off the streets due to the involvement of some in the fighting. Lancaster said a plan was nearly agreed that would shortly have them in action again, but only after screening and initially without arms and working in tandem with the international forces.

The international police and military forces and the East Timorese government were also trying to increase visibility and response in troubled areas to help people feel safe enough to leave the displaced person camps, Lancaster said.

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