Subject: LUSA: President takes 'all control' of security, Australian forces arrive

25-05-2006 13:01:00. Fonte LUSA. Notícia SIR-8022235 Temas:

East Timor: President takes 'all control' of security, Australian forces arrive

Dili, May 25 (Lusa) - President Xanana Gusmão, apparently sidelining the government, assumed exclusive control of East Timor's security forces Thursday, as the first Australian peacekeepers arrived in Dili, a capital imploding in chaotic fighting between the army, police and armed bands of civilians.

There were no immediate official figures for casualties, but a local radio reported at least 20 dead and many wounded. An official at the central hospital said it had received three dead and 38 wounded.

Ten policemen were killed by soldiers as they prepared to surrender under a UN-brokered deal after a standoff at Dili's police headquarters, a UN official told Lusa.

UN Police Subintendent Nuno Anaia said his men, including Portuguese officers, had also come under fire from troops in that clash.

Two UN policemen from Pakistan and the Philippines were wounded, he said.

A health official told Lusa Dili's central hospital had enough plasma "for the moment" but that the World Health Organization had been asked for more supplies.

As first requested contingents of Australian commandos arrived at Dili airport by helicopter and in a Hercules C-130 transport plane, a presidential aide said Gusmão had assumed "all control of security" as "head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces".

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose leadership has been challenged by dissident soldiers, said he maintained his security prerogatives but that he did not want to "enter into contradiction" with the president and would "cooperate" with Gusmão.

Alkatiri said the president's move had not followed constitutional procedures, perhaps because they had not been able to reach each other by telephone.

The eruption of confused violence in Dili Thursday, pitting soldiers, police and armed civilians against each other, followed two days of clashes between security forces and dissident soldiers around the capital that left at least six dead.

As more than 100 airlifted Australian commandos secured Dili's airport before a crowd of cheering Timorese civilians, an Australian naval vessel anchored in the harbor, apparently awaiting orders to land additional troops.

In Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard announced he was ordering the immediate deployment "without any conditions" of a 1,300- strong force, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Dili.

Malaysia said it would send several hundred troops and police later Thursday.

The UN Security Council was expected to give its blessing Thursday to a multilateral military and police force that will also include contingents from Portugal and New Zealand.

Several Timorese and foreign officials contacted by Lusa in Dili said it was not clear "who is firing against whom" in street battles across the city.

Adding to the confusion, officials said both Interior Minister Rogério Lobato and National Police chief Paulo Martins had not been reachable by phone.

Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta told Lusa it was not immediately clear what triggered "more than three hours" of firefights around the city between troops and police, adding that there were "mutual accusations" of blame.

Ramos Horta indicated that some of the casualties fell when troops opened fire on unarmed police who were surrendering at police headquarters under an agreement brokered by UN officials.

"After (the police) left the building, leaving their weapons behind under UN assurances that nothing would happen to them, they came under fire" by army troops, the foreign minister said.

In other incidents, witnesses told Lusa at least three civilians died in one of many blazes set by arsonists, eight men in army uniforms fired indiscriminantly at civilians from a pickup truck, and an armed group of soldiers and civilians invaded the central hospital for unexplained reasons.

The army-police confrontations came after two days of firefights between security forces and dissident soldiers on the outskirts of the capital that led Dili to call Wednesday for the urgent dispatch of international peacekeepers.

The leader of the dissident soldiers, Maj. Alfredo Reinado, reaffirmed to Lusa Thursday that he was ready to "take orders" from President Gusmão and to "totally cooperate" with international peacekeepers.

"I want to cooperate with the international force", Maj. Reinado told Lusa by telephone. "I think they are welcome and the sooner the better to calm the whole situation so we can sit at a table and debate".

Portugal's ambassador to East Timor, João Ramos Pinto, described the situation in Dili as "very grave", but he told Lusa the Portuguese expatriate community "continues calm".

Those wishing to leave Dili, he said, could do so on regular commercial flights which continue operating.

East Timor's worst crisis since gaining independence four years grew out of complaints by soldiers from western parts of the country that they faced discrimination in the 1,500-strong army.

Nearly 600 of them were sacked from the military in March for desertion and their subsequent protests led to deadly rioting in Dili in late April.

All/SAS.

Lusa

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East Timor: Pledging cooperation, PM rejects presidential security control

Lisbon, May 25 (Lusa) - East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri promised Thursday to fully "cooperate" with President Xanana Gusmão on security matters, but rejected the president's announcement he was assuming "all control" of the country's security forces.

Alkatiri, interviewed by Portuguese RDP radio, said the president's move, announced earlier Thursday through an aide, did not follow constitutional procedures.

"I maintain my prerogatives in the internal security area because the constitution confers them on me and they can only be withdrawn in respect to constitutional principles", he said.

The prime minister, whose handling of East Timor's months-long military crisis has been severely criticized by dissident troops and others, said he did not seek to "enter into contradictions" with Gusmão and promised "cooperate" with the president. Gusmão has kept channels open to renegade elements of the army and police.

Also reacting to the president's decision, Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta, in comments to Lusa in Dili, said he did not think Gusmão had acted in "incorrect" fashion.

"At the constitutional level, what the president did not appear incorrect to me because the president is the supreme commander of the armed forces", he said.

The president, Ramos Horta added, had not "withdrawn any powers" from the prime minister, but simply more clearly "defined presidential responsibilities at a moment of crisis".

Alkatiri said Gusmão's decision to assume control of the country security forces had not been accompanied by a formal presidential decree or parliament's authorization to declare a state of siege, as he said was required by the constitution.

He explained the president's action as possibly due to the "crucial moment" of violence tearing apart Dili and the impossibility of the two leaders of reaching each other by telephone.

Asked by RDP if he considered resigning or reshuffling his government in the wake of the crisis, Alkatiri said his priority was to "resolve the problem".

"The first issue at hand is to resolve the problem", he said.

"This crisis must first be overcome and only then must there be a serious investigation on its causes".

"Whoever is responsible will have to assume their responsibilities - even if it's the prime minister, but I doubt that I am responsible", he said.

Alkatiri blamed the crisis primarily on what he said was the poor preparation of East Timor's security forces, noting that they were "prepared technically, but not psychologically".

ASP/SAS.


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