Subject: RT: Australia evacuates East Timor embassy

Australia evacuates East Timor embassy

05 Mar 2007 11:01:41 GMT


SYDNEY, March 5 (Reuters) - Australia announced on Monday it would evacuate non-emergency staff and families from its East Timor embassy due to deteriorating security after thousands of angry supporters of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado staged protests.

"The deteriorating security situation in East Timor is a matter of serious concern to the Australian government," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a statement on Monday.

"I have today authorised the voluntary departure of dependants and non-emergency staff from the Australian embassy in East Timor," Downer said.

Reinado, who led a revolt last year that plunged the fledgling nation into chaos, escaped a raid on his Same base on Saturday by Australian-led international peacekeeping forces in which four people were killed.

Reinado's supporters gathered in the heart of Dili on Monday, shouting "Long Live Alfredo". They denounced President Xanana Gusmao, who ordered security forces to arrest Reinado following accusations the former army major led a raid on a police post and made off with 25 automatic weapons and ammunition last month.

His supporters burnt tyres and threw stones to protest against the raid. Armed peacekeepers dispersed the crowds with Reinado's supporters replying with threats to continue protesting until Gusmao withdrew his arrest order.

Downer said his foreign affairs department was advising against all travel to East Timor and advised Australians in East Timor who are concerned for their safety to consider departing.

"The security situation is volatile and there is a high risk of violent civil unrest. There is an increasing likelihood that Australians could be specifically targeted," Downer said.

He said he was particularly concerned for the safety of Australians, including journalists, who might be considering travel to the town of Same, where the International Security Forces were searching for Reinado.

"The situation in this area is particularly dangerous and Australians should not travel there. I urge all Australians to heed the travel advice," he said.

The standoff between Reinado and the troops has raised fears of violence ahead of a presidential election next month.

East Timor voted in a 1999 referendum for independence from Indonesia, which had annexed it after Portugal ended its colonial rule in 1975. The country became fully independent in 2002 after a period of U.N. administration.

But an east-west divide in the nation erupted into chaos and gang violence last May following the sacking of 600 soldiers.

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