06/08/2006, 00.00
EAST TIMOR
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Call for independent, international, inquiry into recent unrest

 Caritas and the United Nations have both called for a thorough inquiry into unrest in Dili and its whereabouts. The unpopular premier insists he does not want to resign: "I am doing it for the good of the country."

Dili (AsiaNews) – The death toll of recent weeks of unrest in East Timor could be higher than official figures, said Caritas Australia. The agency has called for the launching of a government inquiry into the death toll of clashes between rebel and loyalist soldiers and violence in the capital Dili by armed youth from the east and west of the country. The United Nations shares the same view: yesterday, the UN representative in East Timor said the local government had given the go-ahead for an international inquiry into the violence.

On the political front, contacts between the government and rebels are under way in the capital. The Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister, Ramos Horta, today met Alfredo Reinado, head of the troops fighting against the central authorities; they say they are open to finding a solution to the crisis. But despite criticisms and popular protests calling for his resignation, the unpopular premier Mari Alkatiri today reiterated his refusal to step down "for the good of the country". The Muslim prime minister, a member of the majority Fretilin party, is largely held to be the man responsible for the crisis: in April, he ordered the sacking of around 600 soldiers, nearly one half the army of the small state, after they protested against discrimination on an ethnic basis. This episode paved the way for the violence that followed.

According to sources of AsiaNews who met Alkatiri today, the premier admitted that "it would be simpler to resign, given the pressure I am under, however I am worried not so much about myself as for my country." The prime minister suspects that once he has left his post, state leaders (read President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister, Ramos Horta) will seek to distance Fretilin from the next government, due in 2007. He said: "My resignation is not the right solution to defuse the situation."

Local analysts point to a clash between the president and the government, both from Fretilin, the guerrilla party against Indonesian occupation founded by Xanana, Horta and Alkatiri. The head of state has abandoned the Marxist ideology of Fretilin, a decision that displeased the party's old guard. As for Alkatiri, despite his re-election to the party leadership by a large majority, some are clamouring his replacement. Analysts say Alkatiri is unpopular abroad too, where there are fears that he may favour Beijing with assurances of gas reserves, which the island has in abundance.

According to the authorities, between 20 and 30 people have killed since the end of April, mostly soldiers and police. The others are civilians, victims of crossfire in the capital and its whereabouts that a large number of overseas forces – 2,500 troops from Portugal, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand – has failed to quell. Canberra and Dili have urged the UN Security Council to send the blue helmets to restore calm in the former Portuguese colony.

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