Gang violence continues in East Timor

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gang violence continued in East Timor today, despite patrols by foreign soldiers being stepped up. There are presently 600 troops from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia in the East Timorese capital of Dili, with that number expected to rise to 1,300 by the end of the weekend.

The East Timorese government requested international assistance on Thursday following weeks of violence. The violence started when 600 East Timorese soldiers were dismissed from the military after claiming they had not been considered for promotion due to them being from the Western region of the country. They also claimed that the top positions in the military had been reserved for those from the Eastern regions.

Map of Dili

East Timorese youths are forming gangs and allying with groups of feuding police and military personnel. There have been reports of youths patrolling neighborhoods carrying machetes, swords and knives near government buildings. They said they were protecting the areas against "rogue army elements".

As with the East Timorese military, the general population's support is divided between the remaining army and the sacked soldiers. The police force in the country is said to be non-existent, which is helping to fuel the violence.

Ethnic attacks are also occurring in the country. Gangs from opposing ethnic backgrounds rampaged through the streets torching buildings and looting shops. Tit-for-tat arson attacks by opposing factions have become common.

Speaking to Australia's ABC Radio, a UN spokesperson said that the tension has been increasing in East Timor for sometime. "It's basically pay-back time between the different groups,"

"This is a communal dispute that's escalated because of the overall situation," they said.

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