Subject: LUSA: Almost 600 troops involved in 'strike' against poor conditions

02-03-2006 22:08:00. Fonte LUSA. Notícia SIR-7787579 Temas:

East Timor: Almost 600 troops involved in 'strike' against poor conditions

Dili, March 2 (Lusa) - Nearly 600 troops from the East Timor Defense Force (FDTL) are now involved in a protest over poor conditions and promotion rules and are refusing to return to barracks until an independent inquiry hears their grievances, various media have reported.

Lieut. Gastão Salsinha, a leader of rebel troops, was cited by Timroese media Thursday as saying that 593 soldiers are now in a "non- political" dispute against discrimination and access to promotion.

Lieut. Salsinha said that in recent days about 200 soldiers have joined an original group of about 400 rebels in their protest.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, after his weekly meeting with President Xanana Gusmão the same day, told Lusa that his information was that only 403 FDTL members continued to be AWOL.

Alkatiri added that he and Gusmão, along with parliamentary speaker Francisco Guterres, would continue to seek solutions to Timor's three-week-old military crisis, which began Feb. 8 when some 400 troops left their barracks.

In comments to Lusa, a source in the Timorese presidency said that 587 FDTL troops were still AWOL and President Gusmão has written to the high command of the 1,740-strong force for discipline to be rapidly restored internally.

In response to the original protest by the disgruntled troops last month, which began at his presidential palace, Gusmão urged the soldiers to return to duty and pledged a government inquiry into their complaints.

An official committee of lawmakers and senior military commanders was set up to hear the grievances of the rebels, but never began its work due to the non-return to duty of the protestors.

The majority of the Timorese servicemen involved in the dispute are former Fretilin guerillas who fought against Indonesia's 24-year occupation of the half-island territory until 1999.

Dili's head of state was a former Fretilin commander before his capture in 1992 by the Indonesian military and imprisonment until just after Timor's historic independence vote in 1999.

Meanwhile, Australia has suspended its cooperation with Dili while Timor's military crisis continues without resolution. Canberra, which trained the FDTL along with the Portuguese military, has recalled its army instructors.

It was not known if any similar measure has been taken by Lisbon, which currently has 14 military instructors in Timor.

The FDTL presently comprises two light infantry battalions and two reserve battalions. It also has a small naval service with about 100 personnel and two Portuguese-supplied patrol launches.

Timor's small Armed Forces are designed to tackle border incursions from Indonesia and slow down any repeat full-scale invasion until the arrival of overseas assistance.

EL/CJB.

Lusa

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