Subject: AP: Dismissed soldiers ask Xanana to mediate row with army leadership

Also: No mercy for sacked E.Timor soldiers: military chief

March 17, 2006

Dismissed soldiers ask Xanana to mediate row with army leadership

DILI (AP): The leader of a group of nearly 600 East Timorese soldiers dismissed from the armed forces for going on strike appealed Friday to President Xanana Gusmao to mediate in their row with the military leadership.

On Thursday, army commander Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak announced that 593 soldiers who began a strike on Feb. 8 had been fired from the service.

"This is a completely unjust decision by the commander," said Lt. Gastao Salsinha, who coordinated the strike.

The strikers, who were protesting working conditions and promotion rules, have demanded that commanders eliminate "nepotism and injustice" from the service.

The dismissals of the soldiers is a serious blow to the 1,600-strong East Timor Defense Force, which was set up after East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Gastao said the firings were contrary to Xanans's instructions for both sides to compromise.

"We want our president to solve this problem," Gastao said in an interview. "President Gusmao is abroad now and I hope he will return soon and solve our problem."

Xanana is currently in Africa, visiting Angola and Mozambique, officials said. (**

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No mercy for sacked E.Timor soldiers: military chief

DILI, March 17 (AFP) -- East Timor's military commander said Friday he would not accept the return of 591 soldiers who deserted from the tiny nation's military last month even if the country's president asked him to.

"They have been officially terminated and even if President Xanana Gusmao asked them to return, they will not be accepted," Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak told a ceremony held to dismiss the soldiers.

None of the soldiers, who represent more than one-third of the country's regular armed forces, turned up.

The men deserted last month in protest against alleged nepotism and over-zealous surveillance.

They had taken their grievances to Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader and returned to their barracks, but then deserted again shortly afterwards.

About 840 regular soldiers remain in the fledgling East Timorese army, Ruak said. There are also approximately 1,500 reservists.

Many of the deserters were former resistance fighters unused to the discipline of a regular military force.

East Timorese guerrilla forces fought against Indonesian troops during their almost 24 years of occupation of the former Portuguese colony. The country became the world's youngest nation in May 2002.


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