Subject: Lusa: Protesting soldiers leave Dili after Gusmão defuses crisis 

East Timor: Protesting soldiers leave Dili after Gusmão defuses crisis

Dili, Feb. 9 (Lusa) - Most of the 400 East Timorese soldiers protesting against alleged discrimination bowed to President Xanana Gusmão's ultimatum to return to barracks and dispersed early Thursday from around the presidential palace.

A column of army and police trucks ferried some 200 military demonstrators to the army instruction center at Metinaro, 40 kms outside the capital, in mid-morning.

Officers told Lusa most other protesters had dispersed of their own accord overnight Wednesday, complying with an ultimatum given by Gusmão in a meeting with them.

Defense Force sources estimated "only 10 to 15" of the total 404 soldiers remained AWOL, but said a final tally would only be possible once the unarmed protesters reported back to their respective barracks.

As the truck convoy departed Dili, it drove past the president's Cinzas Palace without stopping in a sign of respect and thanks for Gusmão's role in resolving the affair.

After a second meeting with the AWOL soldiers Wednesday night, Gusmão promised an inquiry into their grievances and no reprisals if they returned to barracks by Thursday morning.

The soldiers, who spent most of Wednesday in and around the presidential complex, were protesting alleged discrimination in promotions and ill-treatment in the Defense Force.

Much of the anger centered on the commander of Baucau's 1 Battalion, Colonel Falur, whose replacement the protesters demanded.

A five-member inquiry commission, comprised of officers and lawmakers, has been set up to investigate the soldiers' accusations.




East Timor: President gives army protesters ultimatum to return to barracks

Dili, Feb. 8 (Lusa) - President Xanana Gusmão gave hundreds of protesting AWOL East Timorese soldiers an ultimatum Wednesday to return to their barracks or face expulsion from the army.

After meeting with the group of about 400 soldiers for a second consecutive time at the presidential palace Wednesday night, Gusmão promised an inquiry into their demands and no reprisal for their action if they returned to their barracks by Thursday morning.

The group of unarmed troops gathered at the Cinzas Palace in Dili early Wednesday to demand the replacement of the commander of 1 Battalion based in Baucau, Colonel Falur.

"You erred in abandoning your barracks. "If you return (to barracks), you will again be officers, sergeants and soldiers", Gusmão told the assembled protesters, warning that if they disobeyed they would "cease being military".

He promised the soldiers they would face no reprisals and that an inquiry would be opened into their grievances.

Police and army trucks lined up near the presidential palace to take protesters back to barracks over night if they so chose.

In comments to Lusa and Portugal's RTP television after his meeting with the military protesters, Gusmão said he did "not know" whether they would follow his advice.

"It depends on them, I showed them the way", the president said.



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