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Australia Deploys Warships to Northern Waters Amid Unrest in East Timor

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his country has sent two warships to its northern waters in case unrest in East Timor escalates.

Mr. Howard said Friday that the action was precautionary, and that East Timor had not requested any assistance.

Riots in East Timor's capital, Dili, erupted in late April following the dismissal of 600 soldiers from the tiny nation's army. The soldiers say they were fired unfairly after accusing their commanders of favoritism and creating poor working conditions.

During the demonstrations, hundreds of protesters, including a large number of the former soldiers, set cars on fire and vandalized buildings. U.N. officials say five people were killed and thousands fled their homes.

Australia led an international peacekeeping force to bring calm to East Timor in late 1999 after residents voted overwhelmingly for independence following decades of Portuguese and Indonesia rule. East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state four years ago.