East Timor President Calls for Unity Amid Violent Clashes
Following a tour of the capital Dili’s ravaged streets,
Gusmao spoke before a group of officers in front of the police headquarters and
“Let us build the nation from ashes once again,”
Violence erupted last week in the capital city after the
dismissal of 600 soldiers from East Timor’s
1,400-member army in March. Fighting between the armed forces and the rebel
forces has been fueled by isolated clashes between youth gangs in the streets
Much of the antagonism on the streets is between East
Timorese from the east — perceived to be pro-independence — and those from
the west, believed to be sympathetic to Indonesia.
The government fired the soldiers after they went on strike
to protest alleged discrimination due to their connections to the country’s
Indonesia-sympathetic west region.
Major Alfredo Reinado, leader of the rebel soldiers, said he
blamed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. “The prime minister must go,” he
told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “he is responsible for this
The defense and interior ministers have already formally
resigned, citing moral and political responsibility for the incident.
Earlier in the week, Gusmao assumed emergency control over
the country’s army and police forces. About 2,500 Australian-led peacekeeping
troops are in East Timor to assist in the
disarming of the police and soldiers.
Since fighting began, more than 100,000 people have fled
Dili, choosing to stay with relatives in outlying villages or living in
makeshift camps just outside the city’s boundaries.
“The best thing you can do is go back to your
homes,” said Gusmao while visiting a camp of East Timorese refugees.
“Let us deal with the security. Do not take matters into your own
In a video message to the Timorese, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said that the world and he had believed East
Timor’s use of violence for independence was “a thing of the
“That’s why this new violence is so deeply
disappointing,” Annan added.
One of Asian’s poorest countries, unemployment is at least
40 percent. Its only economies involve coffee exports and a fledging oil
industry. Violence has plagued East Timor since it gained independence from Indonesia
in a 1999 referendum.