Foreign troops ease East Timor tensions

EAST Timor erupted as the biggest issue of the past week, with the fledgling nation forced to ask for foreign troops to keep the peace. Divisions within the East Timorese army, based largely on regional differences within the island nation situated north of Western Australia, had resulted in civil disorder. Some 600 soldiers previously sacked from the army were the core element of what many described as an attempted coup as the capital Dili erupted in violence and looting. Local police have been among the 20 people killed during the uprising. East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has sought to resume negotiations with President Xanana Gusmao over East Timor’s political future, including a deal that could allow Mr Alkatiri remain in office but without control of the police and army. Australian commander Lieutenant-Colonel Mick Mumford said the security situation was improving as troops under his command took control of Dili’s streets and began rounding up troublemakers. The commander also played down concerns about an impending humanitarian crisis. With almost the entire 2500-strong contingent of peacekeepers from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal now on the ground, residents were simply hoping for a sense of security so they could return to their homes.

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