Subject: LUSA: Sacking of nearly 600 troops 'unfair and wrong' - President Gusmão

East Timor: Sacking of nearly 600 troops 'unfair and wrong' - President Gusmão

Dili, March 23 (Lusa) - The decision announced last week to dismiss nearly 600 East Timorese troops who went on strike over conditions and promotion rules was "unfair" and "wrong", President Xanana Gusmão said Thursday.

In an address to the nation broadcast on television and radio, Gusmão said he had decided to speak to the Timorese people because many believed he would be able to intervene to resolve the problems caused by the firing of a third of the East Timor Defense Force (FDTL).

In his message, the Timorese leader underscored that the decision to sack the protesting servicemen had been taken by the FDTL commander, Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak.

"I do not see the decision as correct", said Gusmão.

Officials had announced March 16 that 591 members of the FDTL, who had been on strike over working conditions and promotion rules, had been given a March 1 ultimatum to return to barracks, or be dismissed from the military.

On the same day as the announcement of the troops` sacking, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had told Lusa the decision was "the only legally and politically permissible solution" to a military crisis that erupted early February.

Earlier this week, Alkatiri reiterated that the action had been taken by the military high command, "which has the power to take such decisions".

About 400 rebel troops from Timor's 1,600-strong defense force had begun a month-long standoff with the Dili authorities when they went AWOL Feb. 8. They were later joined by another 200 protestors.

Leaders of the rebellion said they wanted to end "nepotism and injustice" in the FDTL and refused to call off the protest, despite the offer of an inquiry into their grievances by President Gusmão.

Many of Timor's armed forces are drawn from the ranks of a guerilla force that fought against Indonesia's 24-year occupation of the territory.

Dili's leaders have repeatedly said that it is proving a thorny problem to turn a former guerilla force into a professional Armed Force.

President Gusmão was a former commander of the same guerilla force until his capture in 1992 by the Indonesian Army and subsequent seven-year imprisonment in Jakarta.



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