As sporadic violence continues in the East Timorese capital of Dili, the country's leaders have vowed to improve security. Police and foreign peacekeeping troops have contained attacks between rival groups, but the peacekeepers are pulling out of the tiny nation. A new contingent of United Nations police is on the way to help.
Gang members armed with rocks and knives clashed in Dili over the last week, leaving at least 10 houses burned and dozens of people wounded.
East Timor Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta announced this week that street patrols in the capital would be increased. United Nations officials also plan to open six new police stations there.
The situation in Dili has improved significantly since chaos between rival regional factions erupted last May. At least 20 people died then and 150,000 fled their homes. More than 3,000 international peacekeeping troops were called in to restore order.
But low-level violence continues. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a plan to send a new contingent of 1600 police to Dili next month.
The plan passed in spite of disagreement over whether Australian troops already in the country would come under the command of the new U.N. police mission.
Neil James of the Australia Defense Association, a security policy institute, says Australia's peacekeeping operation would be more effective as a military backup to the U.N. police.
"And we're just not convinced in the peculiar circumstances of East Timor that a U.N. military force would add anything that can't be done by Australia and other regional countries," James said.
Even as the U.N. gears up to send in the police, Canberra says it is accelerating the withdrawal of its troops from the country. Australia currently has about 1500 troops deployed there now, half the number originally sent to put down the violence in May.
James says it will soon be time for all of Australia's troops to come home.
"Well there will have to be a reduction in force at some stage. I mean, the security situation in East Timor won't always require the level of military support backing up the police that there is now," he noted. "There's just no incentive on East Timorese politicians to settle their differences if there's always someone looking over their shoulder, because essentially, this is an East Timorese political problem."
Last week, Timorese President Xanana Gusmao suspended the emergency measures that were implemented in June to prevent further violence between rival factions.