Fighting in Dili continues ahead of multinational deployment

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 2006 East Timor crisis

Ahead of the deployment of 1000-1300 Australian troops in the next couple of days, fighting between renegade East Timorese military forces and government security forces has continued in East Timor's capital, Dili, from which at least 21,000 people have fled. The 600 renegade military personnel were fired from East Timor's 1400 strong army after striking over poor pay and conditions, including ethnic discrimination. Based in the Aileu mountains, the rebel force is making small attacks around the southern, eastern and western sides of Dili, but reports of gunfire in the city centre are developing.

Australian-trained Major Alfredo Reinado, who leads the renegade force, has said that he aims to “guarantee justice and the creation of a professional defence force,” not topple the East Timorese government.

Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, the Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is to touch down in Dili today to discuss Australian troops' deployment in Dili and their Rules of Engagement (ROE) with the East Timorese Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, and other government officials. However, gunfire and the burning of houses has been reported on a main road to Dili international airport, cutting it off from the city. In response, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced the deployment of 150 soldiers from 4 RAR (Commandos) with Blackhawk helicopters and C-130 transport planes in order to take the airport and secure its perimeter to allow for flights to continue.

The multinational deployment has been met with appreciation amongst both the rebel and government forces. Foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta has said that that the arrival of troops and police from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and possibly Malaysia (which has indicated it may send up to 500 police and troops), is still necessary for security. News of the arriving Australian-led peacekeeping force, was welcomed by Dilinese refugees Mr Ramos-Horta said; "Their mere presence in Dili, the capital city, will have a psychological calming effect." The leader of the rebel forces, Major Reinado has also welcomed the deployment, saying that he hoped the peacekeepers would be able to create a peace. MAJ Reinado has said "This is the only solution, ...There is no other way, or it will be war forever. The Government has taken too long. It is not capable of resolving this." and even told Portuguese news agency Lusa that he would personally shake the hands of the arriving multinational force. The United Nations Security Council, having appealed for an end to fighting, welcomed the deployment of military forces to East Timor.

Australia also led the successful International Force East Timor (INTERFET) and United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) forces from 1999 to 2002.