Subject: E. Timor protesters damage houses, market in Dili

also: BBC News: E Timor troops riot over sacking

East Timorese protesters damage houses, market in Dili

DILI, April 26 (AFP) -- A protest rally by hundreds of former East Timorese soldiers sacked after deserting last month turned ugly Wednesday when at least five houses and a market in Dili were vandalised, witnesses said.

About 2,000 protesters held a demonstration in support of nearly 600 soldiers who complained of poor working conditions and discrimination before they deserted.

Their leader, Gastao Salsinha, has said the soldiers, mainly from East Timor's 10 western districts, deserted because they were being passed over for promotion in favour of those from eastern districts.

Some of the demonstrators vandalised five houses in the eastern districts of East Timor, including the home of a policeman in downtown Dili, witnesses said.

"I was with my sleeping child when the house was suddenly attacked by people, some wearing fatigues," homeowner Lorenca Miranda said.

"I also saw three policemen in the area run away when the attack was taking place," she said.

Petrolina Soares, 26, said she was taking a siesta and her husband was eating when men stormed into their house and damaged belongings.

East Timor Police Chief Paulo Martins went to the site, police inspector Armando Soares said, and nearly 400 police provided security for the protest, which followed a peaceful rally through the capital on Monday.

Meanwhile a market in the Taibessi area of Dili was also attacked by youths who were not among the protesters and did not discriminate between stalls owned by those from the east or west, an AFP correspondent said.

East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said earlier this month the government was setting up a panel to review the soldiers' complaints.

He said the men may be reinstated but only on a case-by-case basis, and accused Salsinha of becoming disgruntled after being demoted when he was caught smuggling sandalwood more than a year ago.

He said the soldier then sought to spread stories about discrimination within the ranks but most of the men had left simply because they did not like life in the barracks.

East Timor became the world's youngest nation in May 2002, after a UN-backed referendum that handed the former Portuguese colony independence from Indonesia, which had occupied it for 24 years.

The deserters accounted for almost a third of the tiny fledgling nation's military forces.


BBC News April 26, 2006

E Timor troops riot over sacking

photo: Police led away protesters they thought were involved in rioting

Hundreds of former East Timorese soldiers have rioted in protest at their dismissal from the army.

On the third day of demonstrations in the capital Dili, soldiers and their supporters threw missiles at buildings and market stalls.

Nearly 600 soldiers went absent without leave last month to protest against their working conditions and what they called favouritism in promotions.

The government sacked them all - about a third of the total defence force.

East Timor police chief Paulo de Fatima Martins said dozens of former soldiers broke away from the rally on Wednesday and started throwing stones at buildings and attacking market stalls with sticks.

Hundreds of police from nearby towns were called in, he told the Associated Press, and five people were arrested.

It was not clear if they were soldiers or civilian protesters.


Some of the demonstrators invaded houses, the AFP news agency reported.

"I was with my sleeping child when the house was suddenly attacked by people, some wearing fatigues," homeowner Lorenca Miranda said.

"I also saw three policemen in the area run away when the attack was taking place," she said.

The soldiers - many of them from western districts of the country - originally left their posts because they believed they were missing out on promotion to colleagues from the east, according to protest leader Gastao Salsinha.

Many of the troops, who are veterans of the 25-year fight for independence from Indonesia, feel they have not been given the recognition they deserve for their past sacrifices, says the BBC's Tim Johnston in Jakarta.

East Timor's foreign minister said the government would review some of the soldiers' complaints on a case-by-case basis.

The dismissal of nearly 600 soldiers is a serious blow to the army, which numbers only about 1,400 personnel.

A recent UN report said that although East Timor had made some impressive gains in recent years, it also had deeply entrenched problems and is the poorest country in the region.

-------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service -

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