Diggers quell riot as torsos found
Australian soldiers were brought in to control a riot sparked by the discovery of two headless and limbless bodies wrapped in sacks in East Timor’s capital of Dili yesterday. Youths from the east of the tiny country, one of the world’s poorest, were outraged when the corpses of the two men believed to be from the eastern Baucau and Los Palos districts were found with their arms, legs and heads cut off. The Australian troops aborted an attempt to detain one rioter after ferocious protests from youths shouting: “Australia go out, Australian no good, not neutral.”
The eastern gang believed the two slain men were killed after approaching a checkpoint set up by western East Timorese in Dili’s Aimutin area. The rioting between the two stone-throwing gangs in Dili’s Comoro market was quashed by the arrival of about 100 foreign police and the Australian troops, who made no arrests.
The violence is a reminder of the chaos that gripped East Timor after a protest rally in Dili on April 28 to support 600 dismissed soldiers turned into mob violence that left five dead and more than 20,000 people displaced. Ethnic gang violence confined to the capital Dili continued and the death toll climbed to more than 25 by the time an Australian-led peacekeeping force arrived in late May to restore law and order.
“We just cannot accept that our friends were killed like animals, like dogs,” said Joao da Costa, 21, a member of the eastern group which set up its own checkpoint near the market.
A UN police officer, Emir Bilget, speaking through an interpreter, asked the youths to dismantle the blockade of stones and wood and trust the police to investigate. “I hope you calm down,” he said. “The police already know who killed your friends and now we are seeking testimonies from you so that the perpetrators can be dragged to court.”
Australian peacekeepers and UN police from New Zealand and Malaysia were deployed in East Timor in May but they have struggled to contain sporadic eruptions of violence.
A UN inquiry into the causes of the deadly violence in East Timor in April and May accused President Xanana Gusmao of inflaming tensions in the strife-torn territory, and recommended former prime minister Mari Alkatiri face a criminal investigation over alleged weapons offences.
The report also implicated a former interior and defence minister and the country’s army and police commanders over the illegal distribution of weapons and arming of civilians. Australian-trained rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado remains at large after breaking out of Dili’s Becora jail with 56 other inmates on August 30.
The report said much of the violence could be attributed to the weakness of the rule of law in the country. The commission said the Alkatiri government failed to follow legal procedures in calling out the army to deal with unrest caused by the scores of army deserters angered by ethnic divisions.