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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
Australia beefs up E Timor force
Australian troops in East Timor
Australian troops have managed to bring calm only to certain areas
Australia is sending hundreds more troops and 50 police to East Timor to try to contain raging mob violence.

A dispute over the sacking of army staff has turned into ethnic violence, with militias, toting guns and machetes, torching houses and vehicles.

East Timor's foreign minister blamed the government for the unrest, saying it failed to act on warnings of problems in the security forces.

The country now needed substantial foreign help to restore order, he said.

The BBC's Phil Mercer in the capital Dili says that despite foreign troops helping to restore calm East Timor remains a frightened country.

Gangs returned to the streets on Sunday, but reports say that although peacekeepers had stepped up patrols they were holding back from directly engaging with them.

The reinforcements take Australia's presence on the ground to 1,800 troops.

That eclipses the 1,300 Australia has sent to Iraq, and shows just how seriously Australia takes the violence in East Timor, our correspondent says.

'Still fragile'

In a BBC interview, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said the government's failure to address discontent in the security forces was the main cause of violence which had brought East Timor to the brink of civil war.

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; government appeals for foreign assistance

"In situations like this, when there has been such a failure of leadership, normally there'll be people tendering resignations," he said.

"We shall see what happens in the next few days or weeks. My main concern is to establish bridges of dialogue between my prime minister, the president, but also with the rebels..."

Mr Ramos-Horta also blamed other unknown groups for taking advantage of the division to try to undermine the government.

And he admitted that East Timor was still very fragile because of tensions left over from the Indonesian occupation and he said it would need significant international assistance to restore the country's stability.

UN evacuation

The head of the United Nations mission in East Timor, Sukehiro Hasegawa, said on Sunday that more international troops may be needed to restore order.

East Timorese pray in church

New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia are also contributing peacekeepers.

"If The Timorese people cannot resolve their differences then I think we will need more international forces," he said.

"But at the moment I feel that we are moving towards a resolution," he added.

The UN has begun evacuating its staff from the country.

The original dispute - in which 600 former East Timorese soldiers protested over their sacking from the army - has spiralled out of control into something more sinister, says our correspondent.

Ethnic clashes between gangs of youths from eastern and western districts of the country have broken out.

The fighting has left at least 20 people dead in the past week.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in fear.

Australian troops, patrolling in tanks and Black Hawk helicopters, have managed to restore calm to some areas and disarm some gang members of spears, guns and machetes.




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See the scenes on the streets of Dili



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