06/12/2006, 00.00
EAST TIMOR
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UN makes urgent appeal for 18 million dollars for East Timor

The situation in Dili is not improving. The city is gripped by unrest and concerns are growing about epidemics in overcrowded reception centres for displaced people. The military rebels are calling for the Constitution to be suspended and for full powers for President Gusmao.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) –The United Nations will make an "urgent appeal" today to gather aid for East Timor as the number rises of people who are displaced from the capital, Dili, gripped by unrest for weeks. Fien Riske-Nielson, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in East Timor, said the appeal will be launched today to ask for 18 million dollars to cover the coming three months of interventions on the island.

According to the latest UN estimates, 100,000 people have left their homes because of unrest during the past month. However, Riske-Nielson warned: "Outside Dili, the number could be on the rise." He said the humanitarian situation was "precarious", because hygienic conditions in overcrowded reception centres for displaced people were giving rise to fears of epidemics.

Next week, according to the East Timorese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Ramos-Horta, the United Nations will give the green light to an inquiry into the violent clashes, in which civilians, soldiers and policemen have been killed. The official death toll is of 21 but rumours and allegations claim unofficial estimates are much higher.

The crisis in the former Portuguese colony erupted in April after the decision of the premier Mari Alkatiri to throw 600 soldiers – 40% of the armed forces – out of the army for "striking" to protest ethnic-based discrimination. The rebel soldiers clashed with loyalist soldiers and then barricaded themselves in the hills. Rival gangs later took over the streets in the absence of security forces.

The political faction calling for the resignation of the prime minister, held responsible for the disorder, has announced a meeting this week to discuss a formula to amend the Constitution to give greater powers to the president. A total suspension of the Constitution and full powers to the head of state, meanwhile, is the request of the rebel military leaders who will be meeting Gusmao himself in Dili in the coming days.

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