Wednesday, May 31, 2006

E Timor PM denies losing control

E Timor PM denies losing control
East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has caused fresh confusion about who is leading East Timor, disputing that he has been relieved of responsibility for his country's security forces.

Mr Alkatiri insists he is still coordinating the security forces with President Xanana Gusmao, who he says has not taken exclusive control under a state of emergency declared last night.

Mr Alkatiri has also scoffed at protesters calling for his resignation outside the Council of State meeting over the last two days.

He told The World Today a rally of his own supporters would be much larger.

"I will assure [you] if my party decided to call for a rally we will get up to 100,000 or more people in the street, on the street, not 150," Mr Alkatiri said.

"I can assure you, and don't challenge us, please."

Mr Alkatiri says he will remain Prime Minister until the next election.

"Defence and security are still part of the Government and I am the head of the Government. Now, together we are going to work together to stabilise the country."

PM a 'criminal'

East Timor's rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado labelled an emergency declaration designed to bring peace to the country a "mistake" because it did not involve sacking Mr Alkatiri.

"This it's not a solution, he is a criminal and should not be allowed to stay as Prime Minister," Major Reinado told AFP from his base in the countryside outside the capital Dili.

"That is the mistake that the President has made."

Major Reinado said he had not yet seen the declaration Mr Gusmao made on Tuesday night assuming sole control of the both East Timor's rival military and police forces.

But he said any solution to East Timor's problems must include the dismissal of Mr Alkatiri, the Prime Minister whose sacking of Major Reinado and some 600 other soldiers last month sparked the latest round of violence in the tiny and impoverished nation.

Major Reinado said he would not comment further until he had seen Mr Gusmao's declaration.

He was not prepared to discuss whether the rebels were ready to surrender their weapons to an international force of security personnel from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal.

UN withdrawal premature: Annan

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed concern on Tuesday about violence in East Timor and regret for what he said was the premature withdrawal of a UN mission which had been stationed there since the tiny country gained independence in 2002.

"It's really sad and tragic that we have to relive this experience again in East Timor," Mr Annan said.

The UN chief was referring to the country's apparent progress toward stabilisation after the intervention of the UN support force, which was withdrawn last year and replaced by a UN political monitoring mission.

The pattern of a resurgence in violence following the departure of a UN force already has occurred several times, particularly in Africa, and is a core reason for the recent creation of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, which has not yet become operational.

"There has been a sense that we tend to leave conflict areas too soon, and this is one of the issues that we hope the Peacebuilding Commission will help us address," Mr Annan said.

"When we get into these situations, we should be in for the medium to the longer-term and take a longer-term view, rather than a short-term view, believing that we can leave after elections."

Injured evacuees

Darwin doctors say the 10 patients evacuated from East Timor with gunshot wounds are also dealing with psychological trauma.

Seven patients are in a serious but stable condition and three police officers are still listed as critical.

Doctor Brian Spain from the Royal Darwin Hospital says most will need more surgery for severe injuries and could be in hospital for months.

He says there is also concern for their mental state.

"Those things in fact are only just emerging now, only a few of them actually speak English. For many of them we've been using interpreters ... and it's only today that it's coming out that many of them have clearly been severely psychologically traumatised, as you imagine, by the events that they've gone through," he said.

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