05 November 2008

East Timor: Political tensions, security forces instability risk spinning 'out of control'

Dili, Oct. 28 (Lusa) - Mounting tension between East Timor's government and the opposition and continued regional-based rivalries in the police and army have left the country in a state of "pre-crisis and fatalism", a Timorese expert in strategic affairs warned Tuesday.

"People begin to interiorize a new crisis and no one appears to be able to keep it from erupting", Loro Horta, the son of President José Ramos Horta, told Lusa in Dili, referring to the bloody turmoil two years ago that involved rival security force factions and communal gangs.

"The risk we face is that the irritation between the government and (opposition party) Fretilin spins out of control with groups reacting to the constantly escalating tensions", Horta said.

The Singapore-based academic described the country's leadership as hobbled by "three egos, each bigger than the other" that limited the possibility of the president, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão and opposition chief Mari Alkatiri combining to quell rising political uncertainty and unrest in the police and the army.

Fretilin, which denounces Gusmão's coalition government as unconstitutional, was "one step away" from withdrawing from parliament and provoking an "institutional crisis", Horta said.

The prolonged political feuding, he added, was developing against a background of continued dissention within an "unraveling" and "demoralized" national police that lacked a "strong command structure" and an army still suffering the consequences of regional rivalries that fractured it during the 2006 wave of violence.

Horta forecast that "if a new crisis erupts" it would first break out in the police force.

As an additional sign of the reigning uncertainty and instability, Horta said his father's Timorese presidential guard had not been paid in two months and remained without radio equipment.

Though severely wounded, President Ramos Horta survived an assassination attempt by renegade soldiers in Dili last February.

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