Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gusmão urges ‘calm and unity’ against regional tensions

“President Xanana Gusmão, responding to requests from opposition party leaders, appealed Tuesday to the East Timorese for "calm and unity" in the face of ethnic violence triggered by dissention within the army.

Gusmão, in his second speech on the subject in less than a week, urged all sides to remain "non-violent" and "not to carry the problems of one institution (the military) outside of that institution". He reaffirmed that he disagreed with the decision earlier this month to sack nearly 600 soldiers from Timor's small army as "unjust" and an "error", but stressed he would not press the government to fire the armed forces chief, Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak.

Following the president's first criticism Thursday of the army's move, rumours of impending ethnic violence spread through Dili, leading an undetermined number of people to flee the capital. At the weekend, a rash of vandalism and assaults in Dili targeted people originating from eastern parts of the country.

The controversy within the army arose last month, when hundreds of soldiers from western parts of East Timor went AWOL to protest what they alleged was discrimination against them in the military. Nearly 600 protesters - roughly one-third of the army - were sacked after they refused an ultimatum to return to barracks by March 1 and to participate in an inquiry into their allegations of discrimination. After taping his speech Tuesday, Gusmão told Lusa and Portugal's RTP television that he decided to address the issue again at the urging of leaders of several opposition parties with whom he met earlier.”

Source: Lusa (from UNOTIL Public Information Office, Daily Media Review)

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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