Subject: AP: Downer visits East Timor amid political tensions

Also AFP: Downer in ETimor to mark holiday

Australian foreign minister visits East Timor amid political tensions

DILI(AP): Australia's foreign minister on Thursdaybecame the highest-level foreign official to visit East Timor since it installed a new government, arriving days after machete-wielding youths clashed in the streets.

Alexander Downer will discuss the current security situation with top government leaders as well as representatives of the opposition, Vice President Jose Louis Guterres said.

The one-day visit comes weeks after President Jose Ramos-Horta named his close political ally, Xanana Gusmao, the country's new prime minister.

The move was aimed at ending a standoff following inconclusive parliamentary elections in July, but the former ruling party Fretilin protested, saying it garnered the most votes in the polls and had the right to govern. Several people have died in rioting since then.

Downer, who arrived in Dili early Thursday, "will discuss the current security situation" with Ramos-Horta, Gusmao, and with Secretary General of Fretilin, Mari Alkatiri, among others, said Vice President, Jose Luis Guterres.

He also will meet Australian and New Zealand troops, deployed to East Timor after a military mutiny last year triggered clashes that left dozens dead and led to the collapse of the young government. (***)

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Downer in ETimor to mark holiday

AFP - Thursday, August 30

DILI, Aug 30, 2007 (AFP) - Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer arrived in East Timor on Thursday for a one-day visit on the anniversary of the tiny neighbouring nation's 1999 independence vote.

Australia's perceived support for the East Timorese referendum, which saw the majority of people vote to break away from ruling Indonesia, damaged Canberra's relations with Jakarta, a rift that took years to repair.

Downer is the first Australian minister to visit East Timor since the new government of Xanana Gusmao was sworn in earlier this month, and it follows a visit by Prime Minister John Howard in July.

Downer will meet President Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Gusmao, and other officials, as well as members of the Australian-led International Security Force.

Australian peacekeepers were despatched here in May last year after ongoing street violence in the capital Dili involving rival factions of the security forces as well as youth gangs left at least 37 people dead.

On arrival, Downer inked two deals with his East Timorese counterpart Zacarias Albano, one covering land exchanges for embassies and another on a rural water supply and sanitation project worth 20 million dollars.

"We are profiting from the visit of minister Downer here to once again show the close collaboration and cooperation between Australia and Timor Leste, which also needs to be further strengthened in the coming years," Albano said.

The anniversary of the 1999 referendum is a public holiday in East Timor. Violence surrounding the vote, blamed on militias backed by Indonesia's military, saw some 1,400 people killed.

After the vote, East Timor was put under UN administration before it finally achieved independence in May 2002.


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