Subject: LUSA: Defense force crisis still to be resolved, say military officials

East Timor: Defense force crisis still to be resolved, say military officials

Dili, Feb. 14 (Lusa) - A crisis among East Timor's Armed Forces that erupted last week after hundreds of disgruntled troops left their barracks is still a long way from being resolved, military sources said Tuesday.

Just over half a group of 400-odd unarmed troops who went AWOL Feb. 8 to protest alleged discrimination and ill-treatment by officers have heeded calls from military and civil authorities to end their action and return to barracks.

These members of the East Timor Defense Force (FDTL), numbering about 220, are presently quartered at an Army instruction center at Metinaro, about 40 kms from the capital, the military sources told Lusa.

An inquiry commission of senior officers and lawmakers had been due to begin taking evidence from the mutinous troops at the Metinaro base last week, however, military sources told Lusa that these hearings have yet to get underway.

A visit to the Metinaro military base is of the agenda of Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio on an official Timor visit beginning Feb. 21, his last overseas trip before standing down.

After twice meeting with the 404 protestors last week, President Xanana Gusmão said he believed he had defused the crisis by promising no reprisals if the troops returned to barracks and by promising an official inquiry into their grievances.

The protest, which involved about one-quarter of the new nations defense force, came in the wake of a written petition sent to the president several weeks ago.

As supreme commander of the defense force, Gusmão had been expected to deal with the simmering unrest and related military issues on March 9 at a scheduled meeting on the Superior Council of Defense and Security.

Timor's fledgling Armed Forces still lack a disciplinary code and strategic defense concept, as well as permanent bases and equipment.

EL/SAS/CJB Lusa

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