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East Timor's Foreign Minister Stresses Need for Political Stability, as Violence Flares


East Timor's foreign minister says political stability is a must, if his four-year-old nation is to quell erupting violence between military factions.

East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta dismissed the notion his country is plunging into civil war.

He says he believes Monday's meeting between President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri should resolve any questions about a divided leadership in facing this crisis.

It is rumored that Mr. Alkitiri may be replaced for failing to address a mutiny in the military that flared this week into factional fighting in the capital.

Ramos-Horta says East Timor will follow the rule of law.

"We cannot change government at the spur of the moment," he said. "Although, I understand the sentiments of many people, we have to follow the procedures that are laid down in our constitution."

Hundreds of international peacekeepers are in East Timor to disarm rival factions of solders, police and gangs. More than two-dozen people have been killed, and tens-of-thousands of residents have fled the capital.

What began last month as a split in the military has degenerated into an ethnic conflict. People are divided along east-west lines, or those who are perceived to have supported Indonesia during its brutal 24-year rule of East Timor, and those who fought for independence.

Many people want to see Ramos-Horta installed as the prime minister to help end the bloodshed.

The foreign minister, who is considered a contender to be the next U.N. secretary-general, hinted he would not be averse to staying in his country to continue to serve the government.

When asked if he would like to be the next U.N. chief, or the next prime minister of East Timor, he put the question to a crowd of Timorese who shouted, "prime minister."

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