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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Australia seeks E Timor support
An Australian soldier passes a burning house in Dili
Foreign peacekeepers are struggling to restore order
Australia has called for more Asian countries to send troops and police officers to support the peacekeeping operation in East Timor.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson made the call as unrest continued to blight the capital, Dili.

His comments came as East Timor's parliament met to discuss the violence that has left at least 20 people dead.

East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta also began meeting rebel leaders, for talks on the crisis.

Some 2,200 international troops are trying to overcome the unrest, which was sparked by the sacking in March of 600 soldiers who had gone on strike.

The violence has since spread to rival ethnic gangs. Tens of thousands of people have fled to refugee camps to seek safety.

'Criminal haven'

Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said he was confident other Asia nations would choose to join the multinational force.

TENSIONS MOUNT
Feb: More than 400 troops strike over pay and conditions
March: Government sacks nearly 600 of 1,400-man army
April: Rioting by sacked troops leaves five people dead
May: Violence intensifies, with battles between gangs from east and west of the country
24 May: Government asks foreign troops to take control

"From Australia's point of view there are a number of countries who have been involved in East Timor before, and countries who work very well with New Zealand, Malaysia and Australia," Mr Nelson told Australian TV.

Mr Nelson warned at the weekend that East Timor could become a haven for terrorists and criminals if the government were to fall.

He was speaking as parliament convened in Dili for the first time since the violence began.

Some MPs were reportedly unable to attend because they feared for their safety, but 50 lawmakers were present, enough for a quorum.

Members heard expressions of concern about MPs unable to attend the session.

One MP expressed concern about reports of weapons caches in his district and another asked for security to escort him to future parliamentary meetings.

"Without any security we cannot do anything," said MP Antonio Cardozo.

'All-inclusive talks'

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, who is also the new defence minister, visited several rebel commanders to discuss the crisis.

He was aiming to explore "avenues for all-inclusive talks which will lead to a lasting resolution of the political issues," the defence ministry said in a statement before the talks.

A ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency afterwards that the two sides had had a "good talk".

He planned to visit more rebel leaders in the next few days, his office said.

The talks came amid continuing violence in Dili, where rival gangs hurled rocks at each other and houses were reportedly burned.

Foreign peacekeepers fired teargas to break up fighting between gangs.

Brigadier Mick Slater, who is commanding the Australian troops, said that a strong police force was needed.

"It is about getting criminals off the streets and police do that better than soldiers," he told journalists.

"The tensions in the city are too great for us to drop the ball on this one," he said.




BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
Peacekeepers carry out searches for weapons



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