Subject: AP: Security Tight In E Timor's Capital After Gangs Set Houses On Fire

East Timor: Security Tight In East Timor's Capital After Gangs Set Houses On Fire

Updated:2007-07-23 15:29:20 MYT

DILI, EAST TIMOR: International security forces patrolled East Timor's capital by foot and air Monday (July 23rd), a day after using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse gangs of youths setting houses and tires on fire.

A blaze at the main compound of Australian-led troops also was being investigated, but Lt. Col. Robert Barnes, a spokesman for the International Stabilization Force, said it was too early to speculate on the cause.

The violence that swept Dili late Sunday (July 22nd) came days after the country's ruling elite failed to decide who should lead a new coalition government.

They remain bitterly divided a year after factional fighting between police and army units spilled onto the streets, killing 37 people and driving 155,000 others from their homes.

Order was largely restored with the arrival of international troops, but isolated incidents continue and _ with inconclusive parliamentary elections last month _ the future of the tiny nation remains uncertain.

At least one house was burned to the ground on Sunday (July 22nd) and flames poured from the rooftops of several others. Gangs of boys also set tires on fire in the streets, said U.N. police spokeswoman Monica Rodrigues.

"Police dispersed them by firing tear gas and rubber bullets," she said.

An outdoor shed near the Australian troops' heliport also was destroyed in a fire, Barnes said, and international forces were investigating to see what may have triggered the blaze.

Australian and New Zealand troops patrolled the streets of downtown Dili on Monday (July 23rd), as a surveillance helicopter took to the skies. The city was largely calm, however, with residents sweeping away debris.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony of less than a million people, faces major security, humanitarian and economic challenges just five years after it became Asia's newest state in a U.N.-backed independence vote.

Unemployment hovers at around 50 percent, and aid agencies have warned that a fifth of the population is threatened by food shortages after crop failures.

Rival political forces have until July 30th to decide who should lead a new coalition government, but talks headed by President Jose Ramos-Horta last week and again on Monday (July 23rd) yielded no results.

The Fretilin party, which won the most votes in last month's elections but not a majority, and an alliance headed by the new party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao both rejected calls for power-sharing.

The two sides are apparently split over who should take the top job of prime minister. (By GUIDO GOULART/AP)

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