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Friday, September 01, 2006

Clashes break out in East Timor

DILI, East Timor (AP) -- Gangs armed with stones and arrows clashed in the East Timorese capital Friday, raising fresh security concerns following the recent escape from prison of a rebel leader and scores of other violent inmates.

At least six people were wounded in the clashes outside a downtown Dili hotel before international security forces arrived to restore order.

East Timor descended into chaos in May amid fighting between factions in the newly independent country's security forces.

International peacekeepers have largely restored order and a new government has been installed, but sporadic gang fights have continued, mostly based on regional divisions exacerbated by the conflict.

Local and foreign security forces were searching for 57 inmates who escaped from a Dill prison on Wednesday, including renegade military leader Alfredo Reinado, who was a key figure in the May unrest, and several of his followers.

Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta partly blamed the U.N. and neighboring Australia for the breakout, which has raised tensions in East Timor.

Australian forces were sent to East Timor in May to help curb violent unrest.

In a telephone interview with Australia Broadcasting Corp. radio, he said the prison was under the control of East Timorese forces, but Australian peacekeepers must accept some of the blame because they refused to boost security outside.

"I am personally just puzzled why, in spite of our repeated requests for static forces to be outside the prison, this was not done," Ramos Horta said. "I presume the Australian forces, the U.N., as experts in security, they thought it was not necessary."

"Had there been strong security outside, this could have been prevented," Ramos Horta said.
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