Subject: Australia calls for political reforms to follow East Timor bloodshed

Australia calls for political reforms to follow East Timor bloodshed

SYDNEY, May 26 (AFP) -- The Australian government made clear Friday it would expect East Timor to enact political reforms in return for it sending hundreds of troops into the fledgling nation to quell a military rebellion.

As 450 Australian soldiers began fanning out across the capital Dili, Prime Minister John Howard said the need for a foreign military force in East Timor had been expected as the country had a "significant governance problem."

"I've watched a deteriorating situation in East Timor for some months," he said. "This has come as no great surprise. However, we must remember that East Timor is an independent country.

"People say you should have seen it coming, and I say 'Yes, I did.' But until you are asked, it happens to be an invasion. And we were not asked until a short while ago."

Howard, who has said that East Timor may have gained independence from Indonesia before it was ready to do so, said he hoped that the foreign intervention would give Canberra greater influence in Dili.

"If things get out of control, and they clearly have, and outside help is needed, then those who provide the outside help are entitled to ask those who they are helping, 'Will you make sure that you run the country in future in a way that this doesn't allow this to happen,'" he said.

Howard said Australia would have faced accusations of bullying the tiny nation if it had acted too hastily.

"We do have this dilemma, on the one hand the country is fully independent and therefore if we say and do too much, people will say this is ridiculous, Australia is bullying East Timor," he said.

Canberra agreed to send troops to its northern neighbour on Wednesday as fighting around the tiny nation's capital of Dili escalated and threatened to erupt into civil war.

In a sign of Australia's concern about tensions within the East Timor leadership, it insisted that the country's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, President Xanana Gusmao, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta and the speaker of parliament all sign off on the deployment of its troops.

The unrest erupted last month during protests by 600 soldiers from the west of the country who had been sacked from the 1,400-man army after going on strike over complaints of mistreatment by officers from the country's east.

The violence spread, with more police joining the revolt and armed gangs of youths carrying out retaliatory attacks on suspected sympathisers of the renegades.

Both Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was essential that Alkatiri's government negotiate with the rebel troops.

"In the end, what the East Timorese government has to do is set up and get under way a serious negotiating process to try to resolve those differences, in particular, that there are with the soldiers who were sacked from the East Timorese defence force," Downer said.

Downer said there was "an element of disagreement" between the president and the prime minister.

"It's a politically fractured situation, but, they've got to work that through themselves in the fullness of time," he said.

Howard was also critical of the government of Alkatiri, which has been branded as autocratic and too inflexible in dealing with the army revolt and issues of discrimination between the ethnically-distinct easterners and westerners.

"The way in which the country has been governed in the last few years has left a lot to be desired," Howard said.

"The government obviously has lost a lot of authority and confidence."

The chief of the defence force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said the full contingent of 1,300 Australian troops would be in place by Saturday night, backed up by four Blackhawk combat helicopters, a guided missile frigate anchored in Dili harbour and three other warships.

"We will be completely neutral," he said.

Howard was unable to say how long the Australian soldiers, who will be joined by forces from New Zealand and Malaysia, would be stationed in the former Portuguese colony.

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

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