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Illegal Drugs May Be Fueling East Timor Unrest


Australia is expressing concern at a new surge of violence in East Timor - where the government claims political opponents are giving gangs illegal drugs to stir up deadly trouble, which left six people dead last week. Australia is leading a multinational peacekeeping force sent in to quell unrest earlier this year.

Regional power Australia - which is heading the international peacekeeping force in East Timor - says it is concerned about the latest street violence and the possible cause.

This, after advisers to East Timor Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta blamed much of last week's deadly fighting in Dili on gang use of the illegal drug, methamphetamine. Locally made - and know by its slang terms of "ice" or "crystal meth" - it can trigger uncontrolled rage.

Youth workers in East Timor believe it is being supplied to young gang members.

Social worker Justin Kaliszewsky, working with the East Timorese government to set up youth centers in the country, describes the impact of the drug.

"It just whacks you beyond all comprehension," he said. "You go out and burn down your own family's house because you don't know who you are, where you are or what you're doing."

East Timorese officials have suggested that anti-government elements are distributing the drugs to gangs to cause chaos in Dili.

Prime Minister Ramos-Horta says the aim is to destabilize this four-year old small nation.

"There are some individuals in this country that are interested in destabilizing the country, in harming the youth," he said.

Mr. Ramos-Horta - a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his campaign for East Timor's independence from Indonesia - became interim prime minister in July. He was appointed to the job to restore peace after the government's handling of a military mutiny sparked months of factional fighting - displacing tens of thousands of people and killing more than 20.

The United Nations has called for the prosecution of some former East Timor leaders who have been implicated in the factional fighting.

International peacekeepers, lead by Australia and supported by New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal, were deployed in May and remain in place.

Despite the presence of foreign troops, the security situation is still volatile. Peacekeepers have now been urged by authorities in Dili to curb the supply of illegal drugs.

Australia has committed to keeping troops in East Timor through new elections - expected in May next year.

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