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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Uneasy calm settles on East Timor
Man carrying sack of rice from warehouse
Local residents tried to break into a World Food Programme warehouse
East Timor has returned to an uneasy calm, as foreign peacekeepers are deployed to contain mob violence.

A spokesman for the Australian-led force said its presence had had a dramatic calming effect.

But a BBC correspondent in the capital Dili says that, while there is a lot less violence, the ethnic and regional tensions that caused it remain untamed.

Trouble broke out after a confrontation between security forces and disgruntled former soldiers who had been sacked.

The dispute turned into ethnic violence, with militias, toting guns and machetes, torching houses and vehicles.

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

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in fear, and residents are still leaving in large numbers.

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said the government's failure to address discontent in the security forces was the main cause of the violence.

Strong presence

A spokesman for the Australian-led force said the troops would be fully deployed within days.

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

But he said they had already had a marked effect.

"We're actually finding already that the mere presence of our soldiers on the ground is causing a dramatic calming effect across the city itself," he said.

Ongoing violence was more likely to be criminal than political, he added.

The reinforcements take Australia's presence on the ground to 1,800 troops, along with smaller Malaysian, Portuguese and New Zealand contingents.

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'

The BBC's Phil Mercer says a lot less gunfire has been heard across the city but it remains an unpredictable and dangerous place.

East Timorese pray in church

The Red Cross said as many as 50,000 people had fled their homes to escape the violence.

The exodus was continuing, and many of those who chose to stay or had nowhere else to go sought safety at special camps and churches.

Local residents tried to break into a World Food Programme warehouse in Dili, reports say.

Correspondents say people are running out of food as shops have been closed for the past week.

Meanwhile China's Xinhua news agency reported that around 200 Chinese citizens had sought refuge in the country's embassy.




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See the scenes on the streets of Dili



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