Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 11:04 UK

Surrender ends troops' rebellion

By Jonathan Head
South East Asia correspondent, BBC News

Rebel leader Gastao Salsinha, pictured on 28 April 2008
Gastao Salsinha and his group had been fugitives since mid-2006

The surrender of Gastao Salsinha brings an end to the armed insurrection that broke out two years ago in East Timor.

It was Mr Salsinha who led nearly 600 disaffected soldiers - about a third of the army - to desert their posts in February 2006, complaining of discrimination against people from the west.

That sparked off armed clashes between rival factions of the police and army, and to a collapse of order in which tens of thousands of people were driven from their homes.

An influx of foreign troops and police has stabilised East Timor - their job now is to persuade displaced people that it is safe enough to go home, and to rebuild the local army and police force.

Their success is still not assured.

Throughout the crisis East Timor's politicians have often demonstrated poor leadership.

An earlier government sanctioned the import of high-powered weapons, which ended up in the hands of self-appointed paramilitary groups.

The romantic aura surrounding armed resistance left over from the long struggle against Indonesia's occupation gave Mr Salsinha's group legitimacy in the eyes of many East Timorese and made the government reluctant to move decisively against them.

Only when they took the disastrous and still unexplained decision to attack the president and prime minister two months ago did the government wake up to the danger they posed.

And with an economy still in ruins and thousands of angry, unemployed young men on the streets, the risk of rebel groups taking to the hills again is still a real one.

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