Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two ministers resign over E Timor crisis

Two ministers resign over E Timor crisis
Political instability in East Timor continues with the resignations of the Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato and the Defence Minister Roque Rodriguez.

The East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri will remain in office.

In resigning, Mr Lobato and Mr Rodriguez accepted responsibility for the crisis currently facing their country.

The unrest began last month when about 600 soldiers, or around 40 per cent of the armed forces, were sacked after protesting over alleged discrimination against soldiers from the west of the country.

Mr Lobato has blamed the unrest on anti-Government sentiment.

"The main focus of all this conflict is to topple the Government," he said.

"This is clear - to topple the Government. And they have resorted to not very democratic means. They have resorted to violence, to death."

Mr Lobato denied he had been made a scapegoat.

"In any part of the world, if something happens of this nature, the minister of the interior would have the same position as I did," he said.

Emotional plea

This afternoon, East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao took to Dili's troubled streets, pleading with the country's feuding security forces to show national unity as foreign peacekeepers appeared to take control.

Isolated clashes between youth gangs - the product of East Timor's desperately poor economy and massive unemployment - were reported throughout the day, but the city appeared mostly calm.

Mr Gusmao, who on Tuesday assumed emergency powers and sole responsibility for security, went on a tour of the city, urging thousands of displaced residents to return to their homes and promising security would be restored soon.

"The best thing you can do is go back to your homes," he told hundreds of people who swarmed around him as he visited a camp for displaced people near the United Nations headquarters.

"Let us deal with the security. Do not take matters into your own hands."

Leadership 'disintegrating'

Malaysia says East Timor's political leadership is disintegrating and the crisis may continue for a long time.

Malaysian deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak says Malaysia has deployed 330 troops to East Timor for three months, but the commitment may have to be extended.

Mr Najib says that much of the killing and looting in East Timor has been brought under control, and the problem now is political collapse.

"What worries us is the disintegration of the political structure," he said.

"The political structure is crumbling, and that has to be arrested. And some semblance of strong administration and leadership has to be put in place - right now it is divided right down the line."

A 2,500-strong Australian-led international peacekeeping force is also on the ground in East Timor.

- ABC/Reuters/AFP

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