Subject: RT: Gangs rampage as Timor urges rebel soldiers to lay down arms

Also AP - PM:

East Timor violence part of coup plot; Troops try to prevent civil war

Gangs rampage as Timor urges rebel soldiers to lay down arms

Sat May 27, 2006 11:21 AM ET

By David Fox

DILI (Reuters) - Gangs of youths allied to feuding East Timor police or army units went on the rampage in parts of the capital on Saturday, torching houses and vehicles as Australian and Malaysian peacekeeping troops stepped up patrols.

Youths armed with machetes, swords and knives patrolled neighbourhoods near government buildings against what they said were rogue army elements planning to return from the hills surrounding the capital of the world's newest independent nation.

Black smoke billowed above the city in the morning, but residents were generally calm, gathering on street corners to hear gossip and news about the situation.

By mid-afternoon the clashes appeared to have ended, although Australian helicopters circled the city and three navy ships cruised along the waterfront.

Residents say a rebellion by soldiers angry about being sacked has turned into a protest against the government of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who they say has failed to deliver any economic or social development since East Timor became an independent state in 2002.

An election is scheduled for early next year, but some diplomats say the government cannot last that long.

Earlier this week the government asked Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia to send troops to help restore order. On Saturday, those foreign military patrols were the only sign of any real authority.

CABINET URGES END TO VIOLENCE

A foreign ministry official said the cabinet had met on Saturday and repeated a call for rebellious troops and police to lay down their arms and return to barracks.

An ailing President Xanana Gusmao, a hero of the independence struggle, was trying to broker peace talks.

An aide said Gusmao was furious that Alkatiri had not dealt more swiftly with the soldiers' grievances. The aide added: "This situation has been simmering for months. It could have been dealt with in a much better way, without this violence."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has also been particularly outspoken against the government's handling of the situation. Alkatiri appeared stung by the criticism.

"We are now being accused of not being able to govern!" he told a news conference.

Citing praise last month by World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, Alkatiri said: "Does this mean that in only one month we have ceased to be an exemplary case of success and are now a case of clear incapacity?"

Alkatiri also appeared to take a swipe at Gusmao, who told Timor radio on Friday he was in command of the army and police.

"What is in motion is an attempt at a coup d'etat," he said. But asked if he was accusing Gusmao of staging a coup, he replied: "No, I am not."

A Portuguese colony for centuries, East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1976 in a move the United Nations condemned and much of the population resisted.

Australia led a U.N.-backed intervention force to East Timor in 1999 to quell violence by pro-Indonesian militias after a referendum vote for independence. This was finally achieved in 2002 after almost three years of UN administration.

BLOODY

The trouble started last month when 600 of the 1,400-strong army were dismissed for protesting over what they said was discrimination against soldiers from the west of the country. Most of the military leadership is said to come from the east.

The simmering revolt turned bloody last week when police were routed after they tried to disarm the sacked soldiers. Officials say around 15 people have been killed in the past three days.

There was concern that the army divide was mirrored among citizens, with gangs of youths from the west fighting the east.

"Today's incidents are truly saddening because the youths have destroyed the image of tolerance and peace," Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, told reporters before the cabinet met.

At least three houses belonging to relatives of army officers were torched by gangs. Scattered gunfire could be heard, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

"There is going to be a lot of this revenge stuff going on," said one businessman who had shuttered up his office supplies shop against the possibility of looters.

Residents of neighbourhoods affected by the fighting fled their homes for sanctuary in the grounds of the scores of churches that feature prominently in this Roman Catholic country.

"I feel safer here, I have brought my car and my family," said Emil Soares, among thousands at Santo Carlos Church.

A convoy of around 30 heavily armed Australian troops in civilian four-wheel-drive vehicles drove around the streets outside the government secretariat, but they appeared to steer clear of the neighbourhoods where houses were being torched.

One Australian unit rounded up about two dozen youths and took away their weapons -- mostly machetes or axes.

"We're not chasing after them as such," said one soldier. "If we come across them, we'll persuade them to drop their stuff."

Malaysian troops were also out on patrol for the first time since arriving on Thursday. They drew curious stares, and children ran behind their cars as they cruised through suburbs.

--

PM:

East Timor violence part of coup plot

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 13 minutes ago

DILI, East Timor - <http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?p=East+Timor>East Timor's capital descended into chaos Saturday as rival gangs set houses on fire and attacked each other with machetes and spears, defying international peacekeepers patrolling in armed vehicles and combat helicopters. The prime minister said a coup attempt was underway.

"What is in motion is an attempt to stage a coup d'etat," Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told a news conference, as fires raged across the city and terrified residents fled or hid in their homes.

Minutes earlier, Australians troops disarmed up to 40 machete-wielding gang members who had threatened to storm the hotel where the news conference was about to he held.

The Australian troops, who answered an emergency call from the fledgling country's government two days ago, patrolled the city in armored personnel carriers and tanks, and blackhawk helicopters thundered overhead.

Mobs rampaged regardless, and sporadic gunfire was heard in various parts of the city. It wasn't immediately clear if foreign troops engaged in shooting battles.

On Saturday morning, young men armed with slingshots and rocks targeted what they believed were the homes of soldiers who assisted Indonesian army militias responsible for deadly violence that accompanied Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor in 1999.

The gang members, many of them in their teens, smashed windows and set houses ablaze. Black smoke clouded the sky above the city.

Thousands of frightened and panicked residents loaded provisions onto trucks and cars and fled to embassies, churches and nearby villages.

The number of casualties from Saturday's violence wasn't known, but several ambulances raced through the streets with sirens blaring and gangs clashed in several areas of town.

The violence, triggered by the March firing of 600 disgruntled soldiers ­ nearly half the 1,400-member army ­ is the most serious crisis East Timor has faced since it broke from Indonesian rule in 1999.

The impoverished nation received millions of dollars in international aid over the last seven years, much of it focused on building up the military.

After staging deadly riots last month, the sacked troops fled the seaside capital, Dili, setting up positions in the surrounding hills and threatening guerrilla war if they were not reinstated.

They started ambushing soldiers in the capital Tuesday, sparking days of pitched gunbattles with the military that have so far killed 23 people.

The dispute, fueled by simmering tensions in a nation divided along east-west lines, has also drawn in ordinary citizens, some frustrated by poverty and unemployment. Bands of angry youths were picking up arms, some, it appeared to settle old scores.

A mob torched the house of a government minister, killing five children and an adult whose charred bodies were found Friday. Ten unarmed police also were gunned down by soldiers as they left their headquarters in downtown Dili under U.N. escort on Thursday.

East Timor's government asked for international help, saying it could not control the situation, and hundreds of Australian troops have already arrived. New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal have also agreed to help, with some advance forces already on the ground.

Civilian militias roamed neighborhoods in southern Dili early Saturday, throwing rocks through the windows of the small, tin-roofed houses and setting them on fire.

Two Australian tanks moved into the neighborhood, Blackhawk helicopters hovering overhead, and scores of heavily armed troops patrolled the streets.

Houses were set alight in other parts of town as well. Several motorcycles abandoned on roads were also smoldering after being set ablaze.

In the neighborhood of Suke Mas, Australian soldiers rounded up two to three dozen civilians armed with machetes, spears and other handheld weapons, questioning them and searching vehicles.

"There is no solution," priest Jose Antonio said at a church where hundreds of people have sought shelter. Hatred between the warring factions runs long and deep, he said, "and this is an opportunity for revenge."

The dismissed soldiers are largely from the country's west, while the military's leadership originates from the east.

Many of the renegade soldiers are viewed as having been sympathetic to Indonesia when its former province was fighting for independence, said Damien Kingsbury, an Australian academic and expert on Indonesia and East Timor.

They claim they were denied promotions and coveted assignments, because of discrimination in the armed forces.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said Friday he believed the issues that triggered the violence were "still capable of resolution."

---

Posted on Sat, May. 27, 2006

Troops try to prevent civil war

Timor's government appeals for help to resolve conflict

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH

Associated Press

DILI, East Timor - Women and children ran screaming from their homes as renegade militias burned dozens of homes in East Timor's capital today, even as foreign troops worked to stem violence that threatens to split the tiny nation apart.

An Associated Press reporter saw civilian militias armed with machetes and spears roaming neighborhoods in southern Dili, throwing rocks through the windows of the small, tin-roofed houses and setting them on fire. Nearby, the sound of gunfire could be heard.

Hundreds of panicked residents sought shelter in churches as Australian troops arrived in tanks and Land Rovers to try to restore order. The number of casualties wasn't known but ambulances were seen leaving the scene with sirens blaring.

The gangs are apparently allied with police and former soldiers angered by the dismissal in March of 600 soldiers -- more than 40 percent of the country's army -- after they went on a monthlong strike to protest poor working conditions.

At least 23 people have been killed in a week of fighting that poses the most serious threat to the desperately poor country since it broke from Indonesian-rule in 1999. It comes despite the nation receiving millions of dollars in international assistance over the past seven years, much of it focused on building up its army.

East Timor's government asked for international help earlier this week, saying it could not control the situation, and hundreds of Australian troops have already arrived. New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal have also agreed to send forces.

Two Australian tanks moved into the Villa Verde neighborhood early Saturday as the militias torched homes, sending screaming women and children running into the streets. Other soldiers arrived in Land Rovers and set up positions along the perimeter.

The dismissed soldiers are largely from the country's west, while the military's leadership originates from the east. The renegade soldiers alleged they were discriminated against, routinely passed up for promotions and given the worst assignments.

After engaging in deadly riots last month, the rebels fled the capital, setting up positions in the surrounding hills and threatening guerrilla warfare if they were not reinstated.

Some disillusioned youths have also apparently picked up arms, and ordinary citizens, frustrated by poverty and unemployment in the tiny nation also are taking up sides.

Hundreds of Australian troops supported by helicopters roaring overhead fanned out across the capital Friday, aiming to keep violence between the army and former soldiers from exploding into civil war.

A small contingent of camouflage-clad U.S. Marines landed in Dili to protect the American Embassy, and Indonesia closed its land border with East Timor as the spiraling conflict drew in police, machete-wielding youths and residents frustrated by poverty and unemployment.

In a sign of the depth of hatred dividing the Indian Ocean nation, a mob torched the house of a government minister, killing five children and an adult whose charred bodies were found Friday.


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