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Two Wounded in Escalating East Timor Violence

Clashes between the military and former soldiers in East Timor have wounded two soldiers in the capital, Dili. Both Australia and New Zealand have offered to send troops to help quell the escalating violence.

The shooting broke out less than a month after demonstrations by nearly 600 dismissed soldiers turned violent, leaving five people dead.

The former soldiers - about a third of the country's armed forces - were expelled from the military in March after deserting their barracks in February complaining of poor working conditions and discrimination. They say preferential treatment is given to soldiers from the eastern part of the country, where most of East Timor's independence fighters come from.

The sacked soldiers held weeks of demonstrations, which turned violent last month and caused thousands of people to flee the capital.

Government spokesman, Jose Guiterrez, says the disgruntled former soldiers do not want to solve the problem peacefully.

"They have been very, very aggressive despite the government trying peaceful means and also [to] create a commission to resolve their problems, but they do not want to deal with this commission, so what they want [is to solve it] through violent means," he said.

"We have made it clear that we are ready to offer assistance to East Timor if needed," said Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who has offered to send troops.

But Guiterrez told VOA News that the situation is under control and outside help is not yet needed.

"The government is still in control of all the situation in the country," he said. "It is not yet time to request intervention from other friendly countries."

Australia led a U.N. peacekeeping force to East Timor in 1999 in response to massive violence by pro-Jakarta militias after the region voted for independence from Indonesia. At least 1,000 people were killed and large parts of the country were laid to waste.

The recent violence is the worst since then.

The U.N. peacekeepers left the country a year ago, but a contingent of U.N. police, military advisors, and administrators - which was scheduled to leave last week - has been extended for another month because of the violence.