Tue, Aug 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Ex-Timor PM calls for withdrawal of Australian troops

TOUGH TALK Mari Alkatiri said the reported seizure by soldiers of two flags was provocative and accused them of intimidating supporters


East Timor's ex-prime minister Mari Alkatiri yesterday called for Australian troops deployed in the restive nation to return home, accusing them of a lack of neutrality.

His outburst came as the local media reported that Australian troops had seized two flags of his Fretilin party at a protest held in the eastern district of Baucau at the weekend.

"It would be better for Australian troops to just return home if they cannot be neutral," Alkatiri told journalists.

Fretilin lawmakers turned up for work at parliament for the first time since a new government was announced earlier this month. Initially the party, which insists the new administration is illegal, had said they would boycott.

Fretilin won the most votes in June polls, but not the absolute majority required to govern.

A coalition formed by former president Xanana Gusmao was instead asked to form a new government by the president, triggering an outcry from Fretilin supporters.

Low-level sporadic violence has broken out in the capital Dili and several eastern districts, and has been largely blamed on those who back the former ruling party.

"They came here to help us solve our problems, but they came to give their backing to one side and fight against the other," said Alkatiri, who was effectively forced to resign amid unrest in Dili last year that left 37 dead. "They had better return home because they are not neutral."

Alkatiri called the reported seizure of the flags a "provocation" and accused the Australian forces of having intimidated Fretilin supporters for some time.

Some 3,000 Australian troops arrived in East Timor amid the violence in April and May last year at Dili's request, and most are still there.

They have since been on patrol along with security forces from several other nations including Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal, as well as UN police.

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