Thu, Jun 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Timor head speaks out

EAST TIMOR'S STRIFE In his first public statement on the matter, President Gusmao said recent violence was caused by `a lack of political capacity'


East Timor's president yesterday cautioned that the government has become paralyzed and is partly to blame for the violence gripping the tiny nation because it has been unable to resolve the problems that led to the unrest.

"This crisis has shaken all of us," President Xanana Gusmao told parliament in a nationally televised speech, his first address to the country since clashes and gang violence broke out in late April following the dismissal of nearly 600 soldiers.

"We have witnessed the state become paralyzed ... and worse than that, we have witnessed that the population is suffering."

At least 30 people have been killed and more than 100,000 have fled their homes in the last month, when clashes between the dismissed soldiers and loyalist forces gave way to gang warfare. The violence has eased since the arrival of an Australian-led peacekeeping force, but many people are still too frightened to leave cramped and dirty camps to return to their dwellings.

Gusmao suggested the government was accountable for the unrest because of its "lack of political capacity to solve the problems that fell upon our hands," but stressed that he was not accusing anybody specifically.

The conflict -- a repeat on a smaller scale of the devastating violence during its bloody break from Indonesian rule in 1999 -- has intensified political tensions between Gusmao, who is popular but holds a largely ceremonial role, and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who heads the ruling Fretilin party and is blamed by many for starting the conflict when he fired striking soldiers in March.

The dismissed troops, who have camped in the hills around Dili, are demanding Alatiri's resignation, but he has refused to step down.

Gusmao, who initially rejected foreign intervention, said he was grateful for the rapid international response and praised the foreign forces for helping to gradually re-establish normalcy.

"This intervention will last longer than we have imagined, for several reasons, but particularly [because] there are weapons in the hands of civilians," Gusmao said. "And the big problem is that shots have already been heard almost everywhere in the territory, as if they were drawing our attention to this extremely serious situation."

He said his government was coordinating with the Australian forces to extend their presence into districts outside the capital, Dili, where the violence has been focused.

Gusmao's government has asked the UN to establish a new mission with a police force to replace the peacekeepers, and to stay for "not less than one year."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday that he would send a team to East Timor to prepare for the return of UN peacekeepers, but warned that a new mission would need at least six months to set up.

In 1999, East Timorese voted for self-rule in a UN-run ballot, triggering a wave of deadly attacks by pro-Indonesia militias. The UN administered East Timor for two-and-a-half years before formal independence was declared in 2002. The new outbreak of violence has left some -- including Annan -- questioning whether the UN withdrew too quickly.

Later yesterday, the Council of Ministers was scheduled to debate the new budget, which Gusmao said will be increased to about US$312 million, to pay for reconstruction after weeks of arson and destruction, as well as community development funds, a rural credit fund and US$8 million for food security.

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