Subject: LUSA: Military dispute won't tarnish upcoming visit of Sampaio, says PM

East Timor: Military dispute won't tarnish upcoming visit of Sampaio, says PM

Lisbon, Feb. 16 (Lusa) - A week-old dispute between the Dili authorities and rebel troops in East Timor will not mar the visit of Portugal's president to the new nation next week and could instead encourage a solution to the problem, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said Thursday.

In an interview with Lusa in Lisbon, Alaktiri said the previously scheduled visit of President Jorge Sampaio to a base where about 180 rebel troops are currently accommodated could "facilitate the finding of a solution" to the dispute.

Sampaio, in Timor from Feb. 21-23, is due to visit the Army instruction center at Metinaro, 40 kms from Dili, where mutinous soldiers have been quartered since mounting a protest last week over alleged ill-treatment and discrimination.

The outgoing Portuguese president's trip is his last overseas visit before he stands down after serving two five-year terms.

Over 400 troops were initially involved in the protest, which began Feb.8 when they went AWOL and demanded a meeting with President Xanana Gusmão to discuss their grievances.

Just over half the protestors returned to barracks after assurances from civil and military authorities that their complaints would be investigated by an inquiry commission of senior officers and lawmakers.

The commission had been due to begin its hearings last weekend at the Metinaro base, but senior military sources said this week that the rebels had not yet begun giving evidence to the impromptu commission.

Many troops in the fledgling East Timor Defense Force (FDTL) are former Falintil resistance fighters and Alaktiri told Lusa that the process of turning guerillas into a professional military force is a difficult one.

"They are convinced they are the force of defense and security.

The truth is the state has defense and security. National security must be provided by the police. It is now necessary to find an occupation for the Armed Forces in peacetime, besides training".

Alaktiri, on a working visit to Portugal, said he had asked Portuguese Defense Minister Luis Amado during their meeting a day earlier for assistance in making the Timorese military "more professional".

Dili is also keen that Portugal aids the expansion and training of Timor's small naval forces.

"We are starting to issue the first fishing license and we have to have better control of our waters", the Timorese leader said.



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