Timor women protect for peace

Sydney Morning Herald
June 01, 2006
By Lindsay Murdoch

Gusmao takes to streets

Man hacked to death
Women stage peace rally
Looters raid food store
Tear gas breaks up gang clash
AFP investigates police murders

Two senior East Timorese ministers resigned today over the crisis facing the country, government sources said in Dili.

Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato tonight confirmed he had resigned along with Defence Minister Roque Rodriguez.

Mr Lobato said he was accepting responsibility for the bloody consequences that followed his decision to sack 600 disgruntled, now renegade, soldiers in April.

"As the minister of the interior, I have to take responsibility,'' he said.

The resignations follow a decision by Timorese President Xanana Gusmao this week to assume emergency powers and take sole responsibility for national security and defence.

The president stopped short of sacking Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who many blame for the security crisis which has seen the return of Australian and other international peacekeepers to the fledgling nation.

Asked if he believed Dr Alkatiri should also have resigned, Mr Lobato said: "You have to take into consideration that the main purpose of all this ... is to topple the government. This is clear.

"And they have resorted to not very democratic means. They have resorted to violence, to death.

"If the people feel like that, then they think the wrong way."

Mr Lobato said the only way to change the government was to wait until elections next year.

"The only way they can do it, we still have one year to go," he said.

"If they want to change the government, that is (for) elections.

"We must all use the vote as our weapon to change the government."

Mr Lobato would not comment on whether he believed Mr Gusmao wanted Dr Alkatiri out of office.

Many East Timorese and, ominously the renegade troops, continued to blame Dr Alkatiri for the nation's tragic plight.

The move comes after Mr Gusmao demanded that the government pay a price for what he says it its mishandling of the crisis facing the country.

The violence was triggered by the dismissal in March of 600 soldiers from the 1400-member army.

Sporadic clashes last week between the disgruntled soldiers and government troops spiralled into open street violence in Dili that has fluctuated in intensity from day to day.

Rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado said the crisis would not end until Dr Alkatiri - whom the rebels accuse of discrimination - is ousted.

It is feared that the resignations, particularly that of Mr Lobato, could further heighten the political tensions gripping the country.

Mr Lobato has built up a strong security network of his own since he was appointed Interior Minister, a position that has in the past carried with it the responsibility of maintaining all law and order in the country and regulating all security forces, including police and other security agencies.

Mr Rodrigues will be replaced in the interim by Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta as Defence Minister. The current vice Minister for Interior, Alcino Barris, will become Interior Minister, according to the government sources.

President's peace call as man hacked to death

Mr Gusmao pleaded for peace on the streets of Dili today, just hours after a man was hacked to death by machetes not far from the United Nations headquarters.

The president called for an end to gang terror as he hugged the family of the man whose mutilated body was left lying in a nearby street.

Local residents said they were afraid to move the body in case doing so provoked fresh attacks.

"They killed my brother," sobbed Isildo Lobu.

The victim's distraught family begged Gusmao for help after the president asked for the loyalty of Timor's fractured security forces.

The grisly gang murder underscored the danger facing the people of Dili whenever Australian-led international troops turn their backs.

About 100 protesters, mainly women and children, also rallied near the main government building in a call for peace.

In the Comoro market flashpoint on Dili's outskirts, Australian soldiers used teargas to break up warring gangs from rival eastern and western Timorese clans, who attacked one another with machetes and arrows.

One man was hospitalised with his face gashed by a machete.

The day started badly for Australian peacekeepers when looters raided an unguarded rice warehouse after breaking its locks soon after dawn.

Troops rushed to the scene to protect the vital supplies needed by an estimated 100,000 hungry Timorese still sheltering in makeshift camps or churches.

Many Dili homes lie empty, with more than 100,000 people either fleeing the city or living in camps, says Kym Smithies, a spokeswoman for about 30 private aid groups.

'Let us unite for one larger interest': Gusmao

President Gusmao's first stop today was the national police headquarters where he made an impassioned plea to a contingent of about 60 officers.

"Let us unite for one larger interest that is of common concern to us all, that is the stability in East Timor, especially in Dili, so as to reduce the suffering of the people," he said.

He told the officers to "forget the words Loromonu and Lorosae", referring to the western and eastern parts of the country.

"Let us forget what has happened, the violence that has taken place. It is our duty to forgive each other and rebuild this nation that we all love, from the ashes," he said. "These are the most critical ones for us all."

Police officers weep at president's words

Some female police officers in the front row had tears running down their cheeks listening to Gusmao, who is a national hero for leading a guerrilla war for independence against Indonesia.

"I know that some of you who are standing in front of me come from Lorosae, and others from Loromonu," he said. "But I am proud because you remain united and remain loyal in serving this state and nation."

Earlier, a squad of soldiers arrived to put down chaotic scenes at the country's main rice reserve warehouse, where commandos have been handing out 50kg sacks of rice to tens of thousands of local people in recent days.

However, no Australians were on guard when a crowd gathered there this morning.

Looters raid food store

A mob of looters surged inside after some smashed the locks off the warehouse's steel doors just after 7am (9am AEST).

As a way of getting Australian troops to intervene, some onlookers phoned in false reports that two looters had been killed in the crush.

"We have to say that so the soldiers will come," said Ilda Mendez, 24.

Two four-wheel drive vehicles loaded with soldiers arrived along with an ambulance.

Hundreds of locals then scattered with sacks of rice on their shoulders or in carts.

Others pounded on the steel doors, shouting "Malae, malae" (foreigners, foreigners), as a warning to the hundreds still inside the warehouse.

Forcing their way into the chaotic crush, the soldiers booted out more than 300 people as thousands more watched from outside, held back by a small circle of troops.

Soldiers force out looters

"Get the f--k out of here! Get your arse out," the soldiers screamed, grabbing locals by shirt collars and forcing them to drop stolen sacks.

Three more utes arrived soon after with reinforcements.

Inside, abandoned bags of rice were scattered everywhere, many of them split and leaking their precious contents onto the concrete floor.

"We've just come into enforce security and to stop the looting," Corporal Brad Kay said. "I don't know why there was no-one here earlier."

Mendez said two men had forced the locks off the doors.

"We told them the rice has to be distributed by the Australians, because we cannot do it. But they didn't want to listen," she said.

Tear gas breaks up gangs

Meanwhile, other Australian troops used tear gas today to break up warring gangs near the Comoro markets on Dili's western outskirts.

The two gangs, from rival eastern and western Timorese clans, were attacking one another with machetes and arrows.

Australian forces arrived at the scene this morning and threw tear gas canisters at the fighting mob.

The Comoro area has been a flashpoint over recent days with the same gangs clashing several times on a main road that leads to Dili airport.

It was the second time in several days that tear gas has been used by Australian-led international forces.

Police murders investigation

Australian Federal Police officers have launched an investigation into the massacre of 12 unarmed East Timorese police officers.

Six uniformed AFP officers in body armour and helmets used metal detectors and took measurements today on a road outside Dili's national police headquarters.

At the scene also were small piles of rocks topped with flowers that marked each spot where the policemen fell on May 26 before Australian peacekeepers were deployed to Timor.

Witness at the time said the slayings happened after an army unit surrounded the police headquarters.

UN officials said they mediated a truce between the two sides. Under the deal the police agreed to come out of the compound without weapons.

As they they walked out, flanked by two UN officials, a members of the army opened fire, killing the 12 and wounded many others as well as two UN personnel.

UN mission chief Sukehiro Hasegawa has said the soldier who started the firing had appeared "deranged''.

East Timor's violence has been fuelled by a volatile mixture of rivalries between the police as well as opposing army factions plus communal divisions between eastern and westerners.

- with AAP/AFP


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