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Calm Returns to E. Timor Capital - 2002-12-05

Calm returns to East Timor's capital Thursday, Dili, a day after the worst violence there since peacekeepers arrived three years ago. The government plans an investigation into the causes behind the demonstrations.

Officials in East Timor's capital say police and United Nations peacekeepers are guarding key areas while some businesses and schools remain closed. United Nations official Colin Stewart described the situation. "They're maintaining a pretty visible presence in the city," he said. "They're spread around major installations and major intersections and that sort of thing. I wouldn't call it a heavy presence, but certainly a visible presence."

Witnesses say police opened fire on protesting students when they began throwing rocks at the police station Wednesday. Rioting then followed, with mobs of students setting fire to cars and a supermarket, then burning down the home of the country's prime minister.

The students were reportedly made angry when police arrested one of their leaders.

In a statement released late Wednesday, East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao said the student was arrested for allegedly stabbing someone.

Officials are still investigating why the violence erupted to the extent it did. Mr. Stewart says it is possible that rivalry among different groups who want to become police officers provoked the riots. "There have been some tensions around issues to do with the East Timor police force and its recruitment," said Mr. Stewart. "Certain groups that feel they weren't adequately represented in the recruitment… And there seems to be a link between those groups of people and the way in which the student mob was manipulated to vent its anger towards the police."

East Timor became the world's newest nation when it achieved full statehood in May this year after 24 years of Indonesian rule.

There has been a United Nations presence in East Timor since 1999. A small U.N. mission now helps the country negotiate its first years as an independent nation.