Subject: RT: Airport closed after violence in East Timor

Also AFP, Bloomberg

Reuters

Airport closed after violence in East Timor

Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:32 AM BST

By Lirio da Fonseca

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor's airport in the capital Dili was closed after violent clashes nearby between groups of youths in which at least two people were killed, officials and residents said on Wednesday.

The closure since late on Tuesday of the main air hub highlights the fragile security situation in the fledging nation, despite the presence of an Australian-led peacekeeping force.

"All flights since last night have been cancelled until today. The reason for this is because there will be no security guarantee for the passengers," Rosa, an airport official who goes by one name, told Reuters.

The closure came amid violent clashes among youth gangs armed with guns, bows and arrows and rocks near the airport.

Twelve houses were burnt in the fighting, police and residents said.

The first clash occurred late on Tuesday on a main road leading to the airport with one person killed by gunfire. Another clash broke out early on Wednesday, killing another resident.

Australian troops guarding the airport had opened fire on an armed man who approached them in a threatening way, a spokesman for Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said.

"His actions led to an Australian Defence Force member firing a number of shots in self-defence," the spokesman said, adding the man fled. It was unclear whether he was wounded.

Australia led a force of foreign peacekeepers to East Timor in late May to quell fighting that pitted rival factions in the country's police and military against one another.

The main airport road reopened later on Wednesday, although the airport was still closed.

BURNING TYRES

Battles among gangs of youths are common in the impoverished country, which gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 and where unemployment is widespread among the young.

The airport road straddles areas known for frequent gang clashes and peacekeepers have struggled to contain the sporadic violence, with gangs often melting away quickly after trouble.

"There were provocateurs in the road that leads to the airport. They burnt tyres and blocked the road," Nelson, who lives near the area and did not give a second name, told Reuters.

An Australian police officer said many shots were fired during the clashes.

The former Portuguese colony plunged into chaos four months ago when a series of protests developed into widespread violence after 600 members of the 1,400-strong army were sacked.

An estimated 100,000 people were displaced in the fighting, which led to the deployment of a 2,500-strong international peacekeeping force.

A strengthened police element in the force has so far struggled to contain sporadic violence.

Concerns about East Timor's fragile security grew after rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado escaped from a Dili prison last month along with 50 other inmates.

Reinado, a key player behind the May revolt, has called for a "people power" revolution in a letter circulating in the country.

U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said by telephone from Dili the latest violence had to be viewed in the context of gang-related clashes occurring throughout October and did not see any link with a U.N. report issued last week into May's violence.

The report blamed weaknesses in institutions and said there should be a further investigation to determine whether former prime minister Mari Alkatiri should be prosecuted over the arming of civilians during the violence.

(Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in Canberra)

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Dili airport closed amid clashes

AFP October 25, 2006

East Timor's international airport was closed today after rival armed groups clashed near the capital, Australian officials and a witness said.

At least one civilian was killed in the fighting which erupted on Tuesday when a group of youths attacked a refugee camp near the airport, said the source in Dili who requested anonymity.

Shots were fired, and stones and fuel bombs were thrown during the fighting, according to the source who said he was with the tiny country's social affairs minister, Arsenio Bono, when the fighting spread to the airport.

The pair were among several people trapped for several hours at the airport which was closed after all those inside were ordered to leave under the guard of United Nations peacekeepers, he said.

The foreign ministry in Canberra confirmed the closure of the airport due to the fighting, while the defence ministry said one of its soldiers stationed at the airfield had fired on a Timorese man.

"Initial reports are that a Timor-Leste national approached an Australian Defence Force position with a firearm and acted in a threatening manner," a defence spokeswoman said.

"His actions led to an ADF member firing a number of shots in self defence.

"The man then fled the scene and it can not be confirmed whether he was injured in the incident."

Dili has been racked by sporadic violence for months after despite the arrival in May of Australian-led peacekeepers deployed to stablise the country as it spiralled into chaos amid violence between security force factions.

The source in East Timor said he had also heard that one Australian soldier, part of the UN peacekeeping forces which intervened in the clash, was hit by a fuel bomb thrown by one of the rival gangs.

The report could not be immediately confirmed.

--

East Timor Closes Airport After Fighting Between Rebel Groups

By Gemma Daley

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- East Timor closed its airport after fighting between rebel groups, a government spokesman said.

``There has been fighting at the airport since last night and the airport has been closed today,'' said Joel Maria Pereira, information officer for the East Timor government, in an interview from the capital, Dili. ``They are fighting over the usual issues between rebels. The police are being sent in to solve the problem.''

Thirty-seven people were killed and 155,000 people were forced from their homes in April and May when fighting between security personnel escalated into clashes between armed gangs.

About 2,500 peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia were deployed to the Southeast Asian nation in May to restore order.

Indonesia invaded East Timor, or Timor-Leste, in 1975 when it was a Portuguese colony. The country of 1 million people voted for independence in a 1999 referendum, triggering a campaign of violence by militias, backed by the Indonesian military, which left hundreds of civilians dead.

The country became independent in May 2002, and the United Nations is helping to organize elections scheduled for May 2007 and create government institutions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gemma Daley in Canberra at <mailto:gdaley@bloomberg.net>gdaley@bloomberg.net


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