Fri, Oct 27, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Ramos-Horta appeals for calm

GANG VIOLENCE The prime minister issued a statement while on a trip to the Vatican saying the recent killings had caused him `great concern, disappointment and sadness'

AFP , DILI

East Timor's prime minister called for calm yesterday as Dili's international airport reopened after a resurgence of violent gang clashes this week left up to four people dead.

Fighting erupted at a refugee camp near Dili's Nicolau Lobato international airport late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, leaving at least two East Timorese dead and forcing the airport's closure.

"We can only confirm that two people died, two young men," UN Police Commissioner Antero Lopes said yesterday.

Paul Cabrito from the Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR) said that they also confirmed two deaths.

"One was killed by a gunshot and the other was stabbed," he said, adding two GNR members were slightly injured but already back on duty.

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had said that as many as four people had been killed.

Lopes said the situation had returned to normal overnight.

"We have reestablished normal operations, with adequate security measures 24 hours out of 24," he said.

Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, who is on a visit to the Vatican, said in a statement the violence, which he blamed on "a gang of common criminals" had caused him "great concern, disappointment and sadness, and heartache."

"I feel disappointed and sad because once again we see our people fighting each other, resulting in pointless deaths," he said.

"Despite this current setback, I have faith that normalcy will soon return, due to the courageous spirit of our people. I appeal to all sectors of our population to be mindful that peace has to be worked at, and all have to maintain their commitment to it," he said.

Stanislau da Silva, Ramos-Horta's deputy, told reporters at the reopened airport that staff would now be accompanied by police to and from the facility, with several police permanently assigned there.

A spokesman for the UN mission in Dili, Adrian Edwards, said it was still unclear who the main protagonists were in the violence.

"Essentially we're trying to keep open minds at the moment, several ideas are around," he said, adding that two rival martial arts groups may have been involved.

"The speculation is on whether there is more to it than that, political interests or something other than that. Nobody has pinned anything down with any certainty," he said.

Edwards said rocks and broken glass still littered the main airport access road, but otherwise the situation was calm, with UN police and peacekeepers patrolling the streets.

Dili has been racked by sporadic gang violence for months, despite the arrival in May of Australian-led peacekeepers deployed to stabilize East Timor as it spiralled into chaos amid violence between security force factions.

Downer said peacekeepers had been on alert since a UN report on the violence was released last week, naming senior government and security force personnel it believed should be further investigated or prosecuted.

"Whether this is related to the UN report or whether it's not we are not 100 percent certain, and that is still being investigated," he said.

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