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East Timor Soldiers Vow to Continue Protests


Some East Timorese soldiers who were fired last month vow to continue their protests in the world's newest nation unless the government takes action over their complaints.

For weeks, nearly 600 soldiers in East Timor have protested that they were fired unfairly.

Their protests are drawing support and on Monday, around 3,000 people joined a peaceful demonstration in the capital of Dili.

The soldiers, most of whom fought against Indonesian rule of East Timor, accuse the country's defense force of nepotism and creating poor working conditions.

East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a U.N. sponsored vote in 1999. Soldiers from the anti-Indonesian guerrilla movement were incorporated into the East Timor Defense Force formed in 2002.

Government spokesman Jose Guiterrez says officials are working to address their grievances.

"The government is considering their demand," he said. "The government is going to talk with the president and will hear the opinion of the parliament and will try to find a solution for the claims of the soldiers."

The fired soldiers have rejected a commission formed by President Xanana Gusmao to investigate their allegations. The troops complain the commission is biased in favor of the East Timor Defense Force.

The fired soldiers account for more than a third of the 1,600 men who are in the fledgling army.

East Timorese human rights activist Joaquin Fonseca says the government must solve the problem because it appears the military cannot.

"In terms of institutional development, this means that there is a need to review the whole strategy which the defense forces have developed," he said. "The military continues to say the (case) is finished and the remaining problem is political and it's left for the government and the politicians to solve it."

Among their complaints, the soldiers, who are mostly from the country's western area, say commanders discriminated against them and favored troops from the east.

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