East Timor President Xanana Gusmao on Monday urged warring factions to end
the violence surging through the country's capital, while ex-soldiers whose
rebellion triggered the mayhem offered peace talks.
Gusmao, the most respected figure in East Timor, addressed a crowd of
demonstrators outside government offices in Dili where Prime Minister Mari
Alkatiri and his Cabinet held emergency meetings to find a way to end the
Witnesses reported mobs setting more houses ablaze Monday, though the
situation eased since the weekend, when gangs armed with machetes, clubs and
spears rampaged through the city in violence that has threatened to tear the
young country apart. At least 27 people have been killed in the past week.
Maj. Agosto De Araujo, a leader of the disgruntled soldiers, said a rebel
envoy on Sunday had delivered a pledge to Gusmao that they were willing to join
"We are ready to be called back to the negotiating table at any time," De
Araujo told The Associated Press by telephone.
The unrest was triggered by the March firing of 600 disgruntled soldiers from
the 1,400-member army. After staging deadly riots last month, the sacked troops
fled the seaside capital, setting up positions in the surrounding hills and
threatening guerrilla war if they were not reinstated.
The dispute has since spread to the general population, with rival gangs
battling each other and attacking neighborhoods despite patrolling by Australian
peacekeepers. Initially tentative Australian troops seemed to be getting tougher
Monday, rounding up gangs of youths and arresting ringleaders.
Australian Defense Minister Brenden Nelson said the troops needed stronger
powers if they were expected to break up a repeat of the violence that has
flared in recent days.
Meanwhile, Gusmao, who holds a largely ceremonial role in the country,
emerged from the Cabinet meetings to address a crowd of anti-Alkatiri
protesters, telling them to go home and urging an end to the violence.
"The situation is better now," Gusmao said. "We will continue to discuss it."
Alkatiri has become a figure of blame for the crisis. He has said the
violence, which has split the country's tiny military forces and exposed
factionalism and disarray within the government, is a plot to overthrow him.
The relative calm Monday follows days of gunfire, arson, and fights between
assailants armed with machetes and clubs in the capital. Tens of thousands of
residents have fled the city, and the United Nations and diplomatic missions
have evacuated nonessential personnel.
The U.N. special representative in Dili said more peacekeepers may be needed.
Australia has some 1,300 soldiers and police in East Timor, the vast bulk of the
East Timor voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 to
end 24 often brutal years of Indonesian rule, triggering mayhem by militias
linked to the Indonesian army. After an interim of United Nations
administration, East Timor declared itself independent in