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Unrest in Timor causes fear of civil war

Updated On: May 30, 2006

Violence in East Timor between feuding army, police units and gangs has worsened after a week of bloodshed despite intervention by more than 2000 foreign troops from AustraliaMalaysia and New Zealand.

Mob violence tore through its capital Dili on Sat (27 May) raising concerns that the 4-year old young nation may be plunging into a civil war. “Its basically pay-back time between different groups…this is a communal dispute that’s escalated because of the overall situation,” said a United Nations (UN) official.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had called the violence “planned and opportunistic actions of gangs” that was part of a plot to overthrow his government.

The violence has killed at least 27 people and has left at least 50,000 East Timorese homeless in churches, schools, embassies and refugee shelters with no access to food and drinking water. Besides the 300 UN staff members who were evacuated to Australia, US, Japan and many other nations are pulling out their non-emergency staffs. Indonesia has also begun to evacuate its citizens in the estimation of 3,000.

Australia who had sent about 1,300 troops to East Timor said the mission was more difficult than the Australian-led, UN – mandated intervention force in 1999 after its vote for independence from Indonesia sparked off widespread mayhem.

“In a way, it is more dangerous than it was in 1999, because in 1999 you had in effect an ordered retreat, not the disparate disorganized number of gangs you are dealing with…Nobody should assume that it’s a simple walk-in-the-park military operation, its quite challenging,” said Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The unrest underlines the extent to which peace still remains fragile in the country and how premature the withdrawal of international peacekeepers may have been. There have been calls for a renewed international commitment not only towards peacekeeping but also in capacity-building, development assistance and other areas of nation-building.

Sources:

East Timor ‘on brink of civil war’ (CNN, 28 May 2006)

Peacekeepers: ‘Timor in chaos’ (Bangkok Post, 29 May 2006)

Howard says Timor unrest worse than 1999 (Reuters, 29 May 2006)

Editorial: SOS from Timor Leste (New Straits Times, 29 May 2006)

Indonesia begins evacuation of citizens from Timor Leste (28 May 2006)

Mobs return to Dili streets (Bangkok Post, 29 May 2006)

East Timor Violence Raises Civil War Fear (CBS News, 28 May 2006)