Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 1 News List

East Timor president urges calm as fighters disarm

AFP , DILI

East Timorese protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Dili yesterday. Hundreds of protesters took part in the demonstration demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

PHOTO: AFP

East Timor's president appealed for calm between ethnic gangs yesterday as international troops said they had succeeded in disarming the fighters who were pushing the tiny country into chaos.

President Xanana Gusmao emerged from discussions with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to urge restraint between rivals from the east and west, who have battled in the streets using everything from bows and arrows to machetes.

"If you trust me, please, western and eastern, embrace each other in your home. Be calm and help others to be calm," Gusmao told crowds outside the presidential palace.

"Don't take up your swords. Don't burn houses, don't make violence. We promise to make national unity so things will come back to normal again," he said. "I promise you it will be back to normal."

Ethnic mobs have clashed in the streets, burning down homes and businesses and raising fears that the east-west rivalry could end in an all-out conflict just four years after independence.

The violence quickly spread from a military rebellion which began when almost half the 1,400-strong army were sacked for going on strike after claiming discrimination against soldiers from the west of the country.

Alkatiri had hinted that the president was trying to use the bloodshed to push him out of office and hundreds of people gathered outside while he met Gusmao, demanding his resignation.

"Alkatiri is a terrorist! We will kill him! Viva Gusmao!" the protesters chanted.

Many here have blamed Alkatiri for allowing the situation to deteriorate. Gusmao said the government talks would resume today.

The director of central Dili's Guido Valadares Hospital, Antonio Caleres, said 20 people had died since the violence flared on May 23 but that no one had been killed since Saturday.

Australian Brigadier Mick Slater, head of the multinational force of about 2,250 troops sent in to restore order, said it had succeeded in disarming the gangs as well as police officers who had sided with the rebel Timorese troops.

"There's been no gunfights on the outskirts of town since Sunday afternoon. People are out on the streets, there's a lot more traffic about -- we're starting to see good signs," Slater said.

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