East Timor rebels surrender weapons

An East Timor rebel leader says his followers have surrendered their weapons, but the country's foreign minister said some renegade groups had yet to turn in their guns.

    At least 20 people were killed in widespread violence in May

    After 600 members of East Timor's 1,400-strong army were sacked this year, the tiny nation experienced a series of protests which evolved into widespread violence in May.

    An estimated 100,000 people were displaced and at least 20 killed in the violence which brought a 2,500-strong peacekeeping force from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal to East Timor.

    Major Alfredo Reinado, who left the government military and took a small number of troops with him, said the 20 or so weapons his troops turned over to Australian peacekeepers on Friday represented the total of their arms.

    If there are fresh gunfights, Reinado said, "it will not be from my followers, because we are without weapons now".

    "My 600 followers when they left their corps were without weapons. Only me and my personal [unit's] members had guns."

    However, Jose Ramos-Horta, the foreign minister, although expressing appreciation to Reinado for disarming, told reporters on Saturday there would be further weapons handovers by different groups.


    Meanwhile, Xanana Gusmao, the president, said on Saturday that Reinado was not to blame for the crisis in the tiny, impoverished country.

    Reinado says his troops have
    given up all their arms

    "I must say he is not a rebel. Major Alfredo did not initiate  the problem," Gusmao told a press conference after meeting  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bali to discuss the crisis in East Timor.

    "Alfredo went to the mountain to avoid a conflict," Gusmao  added.

    Susilo said: "I support all efforts that have been done by [East Timor] leaders until the problems can be solved properly."

    Aside from regional differences at the root of the problems within the military, East Timor faces struggles for power and simmering resentments between those who stayed in the country during its fight for independence from Indonesia and those who spent that time largely in exile, including Mari Alkatiri. the prime minister.

    There are also differences over what languages should be used and how to combat poverty.


    Burning, looting and scattered killings since the peacekeepers arrived have been blamed largely on youth gangs.

    A former Portuguese colony, East Timor, 2,100km east of Jakarta, was occupied by Indonesia at the end of 1975 after a few days of independence. Jakarta annexed the territory the following year.

    According to various human rights groups and studies, Indonesian rule was directly or indirectly responsible for between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths before a referendum for independence in 1999, itself marked by bloodshed and atrocities blamed largely on pro-Jakarta militias.

    Despite their rocky history, East Timor and Indonesia have had relatively good relations in recent years.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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