05/26/2006, 00.00
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Calm returns but Dili still gripped by fear

The government of East Timor has entrusted the security of the capital to Australian forces. People are returning home, but only during the daytime; fear prompts them to sleep in Catholic schools and convents. A sister in Dili said: "In the evening, we pray for peace together with the displaced people".

Dili (AsiaNews) – Calm seems to have returned to Dili, although "rumours are circulating about possible new attacks tonight against government forces on the suburbs of the capital". Sources of AsiaNews in East Timor talked about an "improving" situation since yesterday's arrival of the Australian forces, but they still fear overnight attacks outside the city. "Black Hawks are circulating above the city and no shots are being heard". Meanwhile, people who fled the city en masse last week are now returning from villages. However, they are still spending the night in convents or Catholic schools out of fear.

Sr Mary, a Salesian missionary in Dili, told AsiaNews: "Many families have returned home, schools should have re-opened because the academic year is about to finish, but people are still scared. Many choose to spend the day at home and the night in schools and convents, held to be more secure". In their professional institute in Comoro, the Salesians are now hosting more than 4,000 displaced people. "At night, each family cooks for itself and then everyone prays together that peace may return."

Yesterday, the government decided to entrust Australian troops with the task of maintaining security in the capital. After the first contingent of 150 men that arrived yesterday, Canberra plans to dispatch 1,300 men in all, apart from helicopters and armoured cars, by tomorrow night. New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal will also contribute to the foreign military intervention, requested by the government of East Timor two days ago.

The commander of the Australian armed forces, Angus Houston, has warned that, although the situation is calmer, conditions remain dangerous. Yesterday, clashes between loyalist soldiers and rebels continued. The fighting started after the government decided to sack one-third of the army who did not report for work, complaining about ethnic-based discrimination. The most serious clashes took place around the police headquarters. Nine rebel police officers, who laid down their arms and were under UN protection, were killed by government troops and another 27 people were wounded, some seriously. Indonesia has closed its border with East Timor while the United Nations will send a special envoy. Expectations are high about a meeting between the warring factions that will be held on 28 May, chaired by the head of the state of Timor, Xanana.

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See also
No let up in Dili violence: homes ablaze, foreign troops under arms
More than 1000 march against premier in Dili
UN makes urgent appeal for 18 million dollars for East Timor
Call for independent, international, inquiry into recent unrest
Ramos-Horta loses E Timor presidential election, Guterres and Ruak in runoff


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