Subject: AGE: Soldiers attack traders in Dili protest

Soldiers attack traders in Dili protest

By Jill Jolliffe, Dili

April 25, 2006

A MARCH by dissident soldiers through the East Timorese capital yesterday turned ugly when demonstrators attacked market traders from the eastern Lospalos region.

The soldiers, from the western regions, were fired last month after a long dispute in which they claimed commanders discriminated against them in favour of easterners.

Led by former lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, the demonstration of about 5000, including civilian supporters, took over the city centre from early morning.

They marched to Government headquarters in protest against their sacking by army commander Taur Matan Ruak. The protesters called on President Xanana Gusmao to settle the dispute.

They then headed to Mr Gusmao's office. As they approached the marketplace, some broke ranks and chased terrified eastern stallholders, attacking them with rocks and pieces of wood.

One soldier was injured, but casualties from the other side are not known. The attackers were mainly civilian youths, who were reined in by the military men.

Ethnic violence has been rare in East Timor, but prejudice against easterners has been rising in recent years.

Well-armed police accompanying the march kept a low profile, allowing the soldiers to run the show.

Relations between the two forces are bad after previous physical clashes. Members of the new army claim the police were recruited from collaborators with the Indonesian army.

The soldiers represent about one-third of the army. Mr Salsinha said they would continue demonstration until Thursday evening.

The men went absent without leave in February after accusing their commanders, many of them former guerillas from eastern regions, of overlooking them in promotions.

Mr Gusmao had agreed to mediate with commanders, but they were fired by Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues and army chief Taur Matan Ruak while he was abroad last month, triggering an earlier round of violence.

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