Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Soldier killed in Timor gun battle
One soldier has been killed and five injured in a fierce fire fight between government forces and renegade soldiers on the outskirts of the East Timorese capital, Dili.

The East Timorese Government says a policeman was also injured and a rebel soldier was badly hurt.

Australian journalist David O'Shea was interviewing a rebel soldier in the hills just outside Dili when the shooting broke out.

"We finished the interview and just after the interview there was a bit of a commotion and everyone took up positions and scrambled into the bush and he gave a countdown," he told SBS television.

"He said he was going to count to 10, if the soldiers didn't retreat he would fire.

"He counted all the way to 10, they didn't retreat so he fired. And things got rapidly worse after that."

He described the ensuing fire fight:

"I started to get particularly concerned when grenades were thrown and we scrambled out of the way after probably half an hour filming the initial fire fight," he said.

"We managed to scramble up the hill and we walked about four hours with a whole bunch of refugees who were escaping and arrived, you know, basically at the top of the mountain and coordinated a pick up from the Australian Defence Forces and here we are.

"Here I am now at the Australian Embassy, perfectly safe, but quite shaken."

Mass riots two weeks ago in the capital left five people dead and buildings torched.

The Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says Australia is ready to help if the East Timorese Government or the United Nations requests assistance.

"We've pre-positioned some military assets in northern Australia, including naval vessels, aircraft and even some troops to enable a rapid response to assist with evacuation or some other form of assistance if it's required," he said.

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