Peacekeepers take control in East Timor

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Map of Dili

The Australian presence in East Timor so far has been characterised by vigorous patrolling into the capital Dili, with the main goal being to lock down the city in order to separate and concentrate the various conflicting forces in East Timor. Despite the Australian military being provided strong rules of engagement by the East Timorese government, so far no soldiers have fired their weapons or been fired upon, although they might have been fired over by gangs earlier today. Outside the Hotel Timor today, where East Timorese Prime Minister Alkatiri was about to hold a press conference, an Australian patrol arrested what appeared to be two gangs about to storm the hotel with the help of reinforcements. The men numbered around 30, carrying machetes, knifes, spears, slingshots, and arrows. The Prime Minister claimed that the gangs were attempting a coup d'etat. Civilian gangs, allegedly provided arms by the East Timorese military, have so far been blamed for much of the violence in Dili.

As the rest of the 1300 strong Australian deployment is expected to arrive in East Timor tomorrow, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said that although his government did foresee the current situation in East Timor, military action would have constituted an invasion until mandated through the United Nations' or East Timorese government's request. "...People say you should have seen it coming. The answer is yes, I did, but until you are asked, it happens to be an invasion." said Mr Howard. East Timor requested military assistance from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal on May 23, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta explaining that the government "...[couldn't] control the situation,"; all four nations responded positively to the request.

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

Despite one newspaper running the headline "We'll stay till job's done, says PM", the Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston has said that he hopes the Australian military will be able to be replaced within a few months by a UN peacekeepers. In any case, ACM Houston has said that he is believes the Australian presence will stabilise the situation soon, perhaps aided by the good relations that exist between the ADF and the leader of the rebel group, Major Alfredo Reinado. MAJ Reinado was trained by the ADF for three months and has openly welcomed the arrival of the peacekeeping force, saying that the deployment is the "only solution" in the face of the government's inability to resolve the conflict.

After praising the speed of the deployment, Washington revealed that the US assisted the transport of Australian troops to position in Townsville and Darwin two weeks earlier.

Indonesia has now closed its border to East Timor, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono saying that "besides security reasons, the closure of the border is to prevent the possibility of issues that may worsen the image of Indonesia."