05/27/2006, 00.00
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No let up in Dili violence: homes ablaze, foreign troops under arms

After yesterday's truce, armed gangs today attacked houses in the capital, setting them on fire. The UN has evacuated "non essential" personnel.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Fighting has broken out again in East Timor. In Dili, focus of the unrest, women and children are on the move after civilian militias set houses on fire. Meanwhile, foreign troops continue to arrive on the island in a bid to calm violence between loyalist and rebel soldiers that erupted four days ago.

Gangs armed with slingshots, machetes and spears this morning attacked the Villa Verde neighborhood in southern Dili, damaging houses and setting them on fire. Witnesses said the sound of gunfire could be heard nearby. Although there is no news of people killed or wounded, ambulances have been seen leaving the area where clashes are taking place, sirens blazing. Australian armoured tanks have arrived in the Villa Verde neighbourhood in a bid to restore law and order. Since yesterday, at the express request of the government of East Timor, the security of the capital has been in the hands of the Australian army. The United Nations, meanwhile, has announced the evacuation of "non essential" personnel. Many people are trying to reach the airport to escape and are asking for asylum in embassies and churches.

A split in the army, which threatened the country's already precarious stability, lies at the root of the present violence. In March 600 soldiers, one-third of the small nation's military forces, went on strike for better work conditions and to protest ethnic-based discrimination. After they failed to report to barracks for around a month, the government decided to sack them en masse. The situation took a downward plunge on 28 April, when the 600 men sparked unrest in Dili that left five people dead and several buildings destroyed. At least 20,000 people have left the city to seek refuge in rural areas.

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See also
Calm returns but Dili still gripped by fear
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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