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East Timor Calm as UN Plans Expanded Peacekeeping Force

  • Gabrielle Brick
  • Barry Kalb

The United Nations plans to expand a peacekeeping force in East Timor, and the country seems to be moving toward a temporary resolution of its political crisis. But the former prime minister has refused to be questioned by the federal prosecutor about charges that he armed civilian militias who took part in recent violence.

Under the watch of foreign peacekeepers, East Timor seemed to edge a bit closer to stability on Friday.

President Xanana Gusmao and ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri separately addressed hundreds of demonstrators in the capital, Dili, and both called for national unity in the troubled Southeast Asian nation.

The crowd, supporters of Mr. Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin Party, had numbered in the thousands on Thursday, and more violence of the type that brought the nation close to chaos in May was feared. However, the presence of Australian and New Zealand peacekeepers helped keep things calm.

They are part of a 2500-strong foreign contingent that also includes troops from Portugal and Malaysia.

Sukehiro Hasegawa, the United Nations special representative for Timor, told VOA Friday that the U.N. is organizing an expanded peacekeeping force for the country.

He says peacekeepers will be required at least until new elections are held early next year.

"The military forces … mostly it's the Australian force," he said. "They should stay here until the elections are over, that will be by May of next year."

Hasegawa says the U.N. force will consist primarily of a rapid reaction unit, community police and people to train local police.

"These three groups of police forces are needed here, I would say, immediately, so that law and order can be maintained," he said.

East Timor has been without a government since Mr. Alkatiri was forced from office on Monday. The Associated Press reported Friday that Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said a transitional government will be in place "in the next few days."

President Gusmao has said that he will name the interim government, while the Fretilin Party, which holds a large parliamentary majority, says it should have that right. However, Ramos-Horta told The AP that the interim government would have the support of "the ruling party and all other parties."

He said that, until the new government is in place, he, Ramos-Horta, is running the government on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Alkatiri was summoned by Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro to answer charges that he had armed civilians to eliminate his political opponents.

Monteiro said Friday that Mr. Alkatiri had refused to show up, claiming parliamentary immunity, and saying he was waiting for his lawyers to arrive from abroad.

Monteiro said he would ask parliament to waive Mr. Alkatiri's immunity.

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