Australia and New Zealand have agreed to send troops to East Timor after receiving a request from the capital, Dili, to help quell an uprising by rebel soldiers. East Timor has also asked Malaysia, and Portugal to send troops to help put an end to ongoing violence between its military and disgruntled former soldiers.
East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said Wednesday that both Australia and New Zealand have pledged to send troops immediately, to disarm troops and police that were, as he put it, "rebelling against the state."
Ramos Horta told reporters in the Timorese capital, Dili, that troops from the two countries would start arriving as early as Thursday morning. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Canberra is concerned about the escalating violence.
"There's been some report of some fighting during the course of this morning around the military barracks area just outside Dili. We are actually very concerned about the security situation there," said Downer. "There is no sign of it getting better at this stage."
More than 10 East Timorese have been killed or wounded in violence perpetrated by soldiers who were dismissed in March, after complaining of discrimination and deserting.
The dismissed soldiers say the military gives preferential treatment to soldiers from the eastern part of the country, where most of East Timor's independence fighters come from. They say because they come from the West, they are denied promotions.
After weeks of protests, the dismissed soldiers rioted last month in Dili. Five people were killed then and thousands of residents fled to nearby villages to escape the violence.
On Tuesday, there was new fighting between the military and the ex-soldiers, which left two more people dead and five wounded. The escalating violence prompted the U.S. and Australian embassies in Dili Wednesday to order non-essential personnel to leave the country.
Shannon Quinn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, says the U.S. State Department is urging its citizens to stay away from East Timor altogether.
"And the Department of State further urges American citizens to defer travel to East Timor, and that Americans currently in East Timor should consider departing in light of the current security situation," she said.
East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao on Wednesday ordered troops to "hunt down" the alleged ringleader of the renegades, Alfredo Reinado, along with his followers.
East Timor, the world's newest nation, voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule in a United Nations-sponsored vote in 1999.