Subject: AGE: Dili gangs turn on Australian forces

Dili gangs turn on Australian forces

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili

October 27, 2006

GANGS are targeting Australians in Dili as East Timor's army command yesterday called for a fresh investigation to identify who is behind rising violence.

Gangs are roaming Dili looking for Australian security vehicles to attack. They scream abuse such as "Aussies go home" as they pelt vehicles with rocks.

The Australian Government warned in an updated travel advisory yesterday that "Australians and Australian interests may be specifically targeted and we advise all Australians to exercise extreme caution."

More than 1300 Australian troops and police and hundreds of other international security troops have been confronting gangs responsible for violence that has left at least six Timorese dead and many others injured since last weekend.

An Australian employee of CHC Helicopters Australia was badly injured when youths attacked him at Dili's airport on Wednesday.

Rumours have spread in Dili that Australians have been taking sides in the conflict, which Australian commanders deny.

Foreigners in one Dili waterfront hotel checked out yesterday, saying they feared an attack on the premises because it is Australian-owned.

Breaking months of silence, East Timor's army commander, Taur Matan Ruak, issued a statement yesterday saying the violence was politically motivated, with the aim of overthrowing the Fretilin Government, dissolving parliament and establishing a government of national unity.

Brigadier-General Ruak, a 23-year veteran of East Timor's former guerilla army, said a United Nations investigation into the violence, which was released last week, had "failed to put it in a political context".

The inquiry recommended that he be charged with giving arms to civilians when the violence erupted in April and May.

The army command's decision to demand a fresh inquiry has increased political tensions.

General Ruak and his commanders have made it clear that they are no longer prepared to remain silent despite earlier agreeing to be confined to their barracks.

Their call is likely to be backed by Fretilin, the party of deposed prime minister Mari Alkatiri, which has a majority in parliament.

From the Vatican where he was about to meet Pope Benedict, Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta appealed for calm, saying the latest incidents in Dili had caused him "great concern, disappointment, sadness and heartache".

Mr Ramos Horta praised General Ruak, saying his statement demonstrated a courageous spirit, pointing out that the army commanders had apologised for the damage caused directly and indirectly by them during the crisis.

Heavily armed Australian soldiers were waiting at Dili airport yesterday to protect passengers arriving on the first flight from Darwin after the violence forced the airport's closure for 24 hours.

Soldiers manned posts along most main roads as mourners attended the funeral of a gang leader who was murdered on a Dili street on Wednesday.

Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis in refugee camps when monsoon rains arrive within weeks. More than 55,000 people are living in the camps, too afraid to go home.

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