05 November 2008

East Timor Warns Against Stoking Tensions

By Rob Taylor CANBERRA, Oct. 22 (Reuters) - East Timor's government accused the opposition Fretilin party of stoking security tensions in the restive country on Wednesday, as Australia announced plans for a limited troop withdrawal.

Security strains similar to those that caused a surge in regional and ethnic violence in 2006 have been rising in East Timor over recent weeks as the government tries to root out police corruption and appoint a new commander.

An anonymous leaflet has been circulating throughout the capital Dili threatening more of the east versus west violence that flared in May 2006, killing 37 people and driving 150,000 from their homes, if an easterner gets the police job.

Government spokesman Agio Pereira said Fretilin, the main opposition party, was "not helping the country to consolidate peace, harmony and stability" with plans for a march supposedly in support of peace, but actually dividing security forces.

"Any step to revisit regional East-West hostilities in Timor-Leste is unfortunate and unacceptable," Pereira said in a statement received by Reuters.

Also fuelling tensions was the arrest by United Nations police this month of Baucau police commander Aderito da Costa Ximenes over disciplinary issues in the country's second biggest city, located east of Dili.

Pereira said security in Dili had now been stepped up, and while Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was supportive of peaceful demonstrations, violence would not be tolerated.

Australia earlier on Wednesday said it would reduce the number of peacekeeping troops it had in East Timor as security continued to improve.

"The East Timorese authorities have shown through their professional handling of the security situation that the time is now right for some drawdown," Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.

East Timor has struggled to achieve stability since independence from Indonesia in 2002. In February, rebel soldiers carried out an unsuccessful attempt to kill President Jose Ramos Horta, who was wounded and flown to Australia for surgery. Gusmao escaped injury in the attack.

Fitzgibbon said about 100 Australian soldiers would return home early in 2009, leaving 650 in East Timor, forming the bulk of a 790-strong stabilisation force that includes troops from New Zealand.

More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the country to help local security forces maintain stability.

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