Subject: ABC: PM announces more troops for E Timor

ABC News Online

Last Update: Thursday, September 7, 2006. 6:11pm (AEST)

PM announces more troops for E Timor

Prime Minister John Howard has told Parliament an additional 120 soldiers will be sent to East Timor in the next couple of weeks.

The infantry company from Darwin will reinforce the Australian contingent in Dili.

There are about 930 Australian troops in East Timor, although 130 logistical and medical staff are expected to return to Australia next week.

Mr Howard says the increase is necessary despite a lull in violence in the country.

"In recent weeks the level of violence has fallen in Dili thanks largely to excellent work by the Defence Force and the AFP and other international forces but there is no doubt that the escape of dissident FDTL Officer Reinado and 56 other hardened criminals has escalated tensions," he said.

"And as the Foreign Minister said in this place on Tuesday, Australia is willing to help along with other members of the international community."

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SBS World News Australia

AUST SENDS 120 TROOPS TO TIMOR 7.9.2006. 16:22:16

The federal government will send an infantry company of 120 soldiers from Darwin to East Timor immediately to reinforce Australian soldiers policing the country.

Prime Minister John Howard told parliament today that Australia would continue to support East Timor, but that the country must start to take responsibility for its own affairs.

Security in the country has again been under a cloud following the escape from prison last week of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado along with 56 others.

There are currently about 930 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in East Timor and about 180 members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Mr Howard said that over the next week some 130 ADF logistics, medical and support personnel would be withdrawn with their role being taken over by commercial contractors.

"In recent weeks the level of violence has fallen in Dili thanks largely to excellent work by the defence force and the AFP and other international forces," Mr Howard said. "But there is no doubt the escape of dissident FDTL officer Reinado and 56 other hardened criminals has escalated tensions."

Mr Howard said Reinado's escape was not the fault of Australian soldiers, as claimed by some in East Timor, but "was due to the negligence of others".

"It is for the people of East Timor, having fought so hard for independence, to take responsibility not just for prison security but to resolve the broader issues that face that country," Mr Howard said.

Rebel's threats

Meanwhile Reinado has told SBS television that he will shoot Australian soldiers who try to capture him, saying he will never give himself up.

Reinado told SBS he had made contact with Australian security forces since his escape and had told them to stop chasing him.

"If they shoot me, I will shoot them back because I have a right to protect myself in my country," he said. "Don't come after me because I'm not a problem of this nation. The government is a problem of this nation," he said.

"I'm willing to talk, with anyone to talk, to do any dialogue, but to hand over myself - no way."

The commander of Australian peacekeeping troops in East Timor, Brigadier Mick Slater, confirmed that Australian forces were in contact with Reinado and said he hoped the rebel leader would surrender.

"Look, it's a serious threat. There's no denying that, but I'm not overly concerned at this stage," he told Nine Network television. "If he hands himself in to Australian soldiers, he will be treated fairly."

Propaganda

Mr Howard dismissed Reinado's threat as propaganda.

"I think Australian soldiers can handle that situation. I have every confidence in Brigadier Slater," he told reporters. "And I don't really think it adds anything for me to give a running response to every running piece of propaganda that comes from that particular person."

Reinado has been blamed for some of the worst violence that took place in East Timor earlier this year.

In May, he led a group of 600 deserting troops and was accused of sparking civil unrest, prompting the deployment of an Australian-led international peacekeeping force.

Reinado also insisted he is not a rebel, and urged the Australian government to remain impartial.

He described his escape from a Dili jail on August 30 with 56 other inmates, saying he grabbed his opportunity during visiting hours when the door was open.

"I know that the security of the jail is not that strong," he said. "So I used the opportunity to scare them with everything that I had: wood, a rock or whatever, and they run away so I came out."

He said the lack of international troops at the prison at that time allowed for an easy escape.

Violent youths

In other developments, witnesses and officials said two Australian police were among 11 people injured when machete-wielding youths went on a rampage in Dili yesterday, some throwing Molotov cocktails and others burning down houses.

Eight of the injured were taken to Dili's main hospital, some with burns from the Molotov cocktails, adding that none of the injuries appeared serious and the two Australians did not require medical treatment.

It was not clear what sparked the attack by 150 young men on a refugee camp in Dili, though a police officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media said it followed the discovery of a woman's body nearby.

At least eight houses and several cars were torched near the camp before international peacekeepers arrived, dispersing the mobs with tear gas, said a UN security guard.

Tens of thousands of people still live in temporary camps and sporadic gang fights have continued since the May civil unrest in Timor.


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