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E. Timor PM Agrees to International Investigation into Violence


East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has agreed to an international investigation into the violence that has gripped his tiny country since last month. He says, however, he will not step down as rebel soldiers demand.

With pressure mounting for his resignation, East Timor's embattled Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has refused to step aside, saying he was democratically elected.

After a meeting Wednesday with rebel soldiers holed up in the hills near Dili, the United Nation's representative in East Timor, Sukehiro Hasegawa, says Alkatiri has agreed to a transparent investigation.

"He's agreeable to the investigation to be carried out with the participation of the international investigators and the prosecutors," he said.

East Timor was plunged into violence after Alkatiri fired 600 of the army's 1,400 soldiers after they deserted over alleged discrimination and poor working conditions.

The move led to a wave of violence that has gripped the capital Dili, with armed gangs from the east and west of the country roaming the streets, fighting, looting, and setting buildings on fire.

People from the west of the country are seen as having supported Indonesia during its 24-year rule of East Timor, while those from the east are seen as having fought for independence.

Many blame Alkatiri's handling of the crisis for the country's current turmoil.

The violence brought a peacekeeping force of 2,500 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal to Dili at the government's request. Their presence has brought some relief to the streets during the past week.

The U.N. secretary-general's special envoy to East Timor, Ian Martin, left Dili Wednesday, saying he will recommend that the Security Council approve a U.N. mandated police force for the country.

"Just about everybody I've talked to believes that there will now be a larger role for the U.N. than in the immediate past and certainly than was envisaged in the Security Council discussions before the crisis emerged," he said. "I think also that there is a consensus that policing is crucial but also that is a role that the United Nations would be asked to take on."

After East Timor was devastated by pro-Indonesian militias before and after the territory voted for independence. The United Nations later stepped in and helped run the territory. In 2002, it was declared fully independent, and the U.N. sharply reduced its operations there.

Around 2,000 protesters demanded Alkatiri resign on Tuesday and new elections be held.

East Timor is not scheduled to hold elections until May 2007.

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