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East Timor Official Meets Disgruntled Soldiers


East Timor's defense minister has met with disgruntled soldiers in a tentative step toward settling a dispute that has plunged the country into violent unrest. Australia, which has sent the largest contingent of troops to East Timor to help keep the peace, is calling on other countries in the region to join the effort.

Violence broke out again Monday in parts of Dili as East Timorese Foreign and Defense Minister Jose Ramos Horta tried to find a way to peacefully end the unrest.

Officials say his meeting with some of the soldiers whose grievances sparked the violence "went well" but no details were released.

East Timor's parliament also reconvened for the first time since the unrest surged last month but some lawmakers failed to show up because of security fears.

A fragile calm has prevailed in Dili in recent days after the arrival of some 2,500 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal. But despite the improved security situation, Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson has called on other countries in the region to help East Timor, also known as Timor Leste.

"It's in all of our interest to see that we don't have a failed state in our region, that we cannot afford to have Timor Leste become of those," said Nelson.

The turmoil in East Timor started in April when 600 protesting soldiers, mostly from the country's west, rioted in Dili. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had dismissed the soldiers, 40 percent of the country's army, after they walked out of their barracks complaining of discrimination.

The violence spread to rival gangs, cracking open the political divide between the country's east and west: between people who fought for independence from its former ruler, Indonesia and those accused of supporting the 24-year occupation.

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999 amid violence by pro-Indonesia militias, and declared a new nation in 2002.

At least 27 people have been killed in the recent spate of unrest, and some 100 thousand have fled their homes.

Prime Minister Alkatiri has been accused of mishandling the situation. The dismissed soldiers' leader, Major Alfredo Reinado, has demanded his resignation as a precondition for resolving the crisis but Mr. Alkatiri refuses to step down.

East Timorese officials say Ramos Horta will meet with Major Reinado later this week.

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