16 July 2012

Cars burned as violence erupts in East Timor

Michael Bachelard July 15, 2012 - VIOLENCE has erupted in East Timor, apparently prompted by political party Fretilin being excluded from a role in the new governing coalition.

Police confirmed that about 58 cars were burned and stones thrown at traffic in the capital Dili, as unrest also spread to the outer districts of Viqueque and Baucau.

A number of cars were torched and early rumours suggested that one person had died in the conflict in the Dili suburb of Comoro, outside the headquarters of the ruling CNRT party, however, this now seems doubtful.

Sources in Dili say most of the main roads are blocked as United Nations police patrol the poverty stricken city to try to bring it under control.

Residents also reported the sound of either gunfire or gas canisters being shot around the western suburb of Comoro.

The fragile democracy had this year managed a presidential election and a run-off election for president, as well as parliamentary election without significant violence, but the announcement by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao that he would invite two minor parties into a coalition to form government for the next five years appears to have triggered an angry response from Fretilin supporters.
Until now, hopes were high within Fretilin that they might also be invited to join a “government of national unity”.

But Mr Gusmao dashed those hopes at a special meeting of his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction in Comoro, Dili, by announcing he would govern with the Democratic Party and a new party which had broken away from Fretilin, Frenti-Mudanca.

Sources suggested that the violence had been triggered by one of the CNRT delegates at the meeting who strongly criticised the leaders and members of Fretilin, which has spent the past five years in opposition.

A source told Fairfax that houses owned by CNRT figures in some of the outer districts may have been torched, but remains unconfirmed.

East Timor was wracked by violence in 2006 and again in 2007, prompting Australian and United Nations forces to move into the country to help keep the peace.

The latest outbreak may jeopardise their plans to leave at the end of this year, once the new government was bedded down.

In last week’s election, Mr Gusmao's party increased its vote from 24 per cent in 2007 to 36 per cent. Fretilin received 30 per of the vote and 25 seats, PD (Democratic Party) - backed by outgoing president Jose Ramos-Horta - gained 10 per cent and eight seats and Frenti-Mudanca 3 per cent and two seats.

The CNRT's general secretary said forming a coalition with PD and Frenti-Mudanca was in the best interest of stable government.

A Fretilin MP, Estanislau da Silva, said earlier he was not disappointed by yesterday's decision. ''We would have liked to contribute,'' he said. ''We have experience. But that is their decision.''
The vote and negotiations were seen as a vital test of whether the 1300 UN peacekeepers can withdraw from the country. They are expected to leave at the end of the year.

With Mouzinho Lopes and Joyce Morgan in Dili

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