Subject: AFP: Major forces reorganisation for East Timor after violent clashes

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Date: 04 Jul 2006

Major forces reorganisation for East Timor after violent clashes

DILI, July 4, 2006 (AFP) - East Timor's military will undergo a sweeping reorganisation after feuding soldiers sparked the worst crisis in the tiny nation's short history, Jose Ramos-Horta, the man tipped to fill the vacant premiership, told AFP Tuesday.

The army will be transformed into a "mobile, highly educated" force capable of staffing UN missions, he said, after troop in-fighting led to unrest and gang warfare in May that left at least 21 dead and 150,000 displaced.

More than 2,200 foreign peacekeepers, mostly from Australia, were deployed here to restore order and maintain calm.

The crisis was sparked by the sacking of 600 soldiers -- nearly half of the entire armed forces -- by ex-premier Mari Alkatiri in March, after they deserted complaining of discrimination.

Ramos-Horta, an independent who is effectively running the government following the resignation of Alkatiri eight days ago, said he has already started working on grievances within the armed forces including pensions, living conditions and promotions.

"In the medium to long term, (there will be) reorganisation of the defence force into a younger, mobile, highly educated and trained defence force that will be geared towards civic duty," he said in an interview at his office.

"We have a very weak maritime unit. We're a coastal country and very vulnerable. We have to strengthen our maritime unit for interdiction of illegal fishing, interdiction of people smuggling" and to prevent piracy, he said.

Ramos-Horta quit as foreign and defence minister over Alkatiri's handling of the crisis a day before Alkatiri himself announced his resignation.

Alkatiri faces questioning over an alleged plot to arm a "hit squad" to take on his political opponents. The sacked interior minister Rogerio Lobato faces charges over the allegations.


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