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Claims credible: Lobato is under house arrest accused of arming these men. [File photo]

Claims credible: Lobato is under house arrest accused of arming these men. [File photo] (ABC TV)

E Timor's Lobato under house arrest

East Timor's former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, is under house arrest over allegations he illegally armed a civilian militia group.

Prosecutors in East Timor have issued an arrest warrant accusing Lobato of giving weapons to civilians.

The allegations against him and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri come from former anti-Indonesian guerilla leader Vincente da Conceicao.

Mr Conceicao, who heads a group of 30 men, says he received weapons.

The group has also alleged it was ordered to warn off or kill opponents of Dr Alkatiri.

Defence Minister Dr Jose Ramos Horta, who met Mr Conceicao on Monday, says the situation is "serious and delicate".

"I find it hard to believe it is true, but this group seems credible," Dr Ramos Horta said.

In his first written statement on the issue, Dr Alkatiri has denied the allegations and refused to step aside while investigations proceed.

"I never gave the order to kill anyone whomsoever," Dr Alkatiri told the Portuguese radio station RTP.

"My conscience is clear."

Dr Alkatiri says he is ready to work with a committee of inquiry set up under the aegis of the United Nations (UN) to uncover the causes of the recent violence in East Timor.

UN mission extended

The UN Security Council has extended the mandate for its mission in East Timor, UNOTIL, until August 20, "with a view to planning for the role of the United Nations following the expiration of the mandate of UNOTIL".

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan last week said "a larger police and military mission" would have to be sent to East Timor and said its deployment would first require the dispatch of an assessment team.

The Security Council has also expressed full support for Australian-led peacekeepers trying to end the ethnic violence in the country.

In a unanimous vote, the 15-member council has expressed "deep concern" over the volatile security situation and called on rival Timorese parties "to refrain from violence and to participate in the democratic process".

It welcomes UN secretary-general Kofi Annan's call on UN human rights chief Louise Arbour to help set up an independent inquiry commission to probe the violence.

Council members have also urged donors "to respond urgently and positively" to a UN appeal for humanitarian aid to East Timor.

Chaos

East Timor was plunged into chaos after Dr Alkatiri in March sacked 600 soldiers following their desertion amid claims of discrimination.

Fighting between rival and loyalist soldiers as well as between soldiers and police left at least 21 dead and led to a total breakdown of law and order, with gangs rampaging in Dili.

Mr Lobato, along with the defence minister, was effectively sacked on May 30 when President Xanana Gusmao announced he was taking over their portfolios.

At the time Mr Lobato, who had responsibility for the police, said that he accepted responsibility for rifts in the security forces which had sparked the unrest.

Some 2,200 combat-ready foreign peacekeepers led by Australia are now patrolling Dili, where the police force has ceased to operate.

- ABC/AFP

In other developments:

  • The federal Justice Minister says the Australian Federal Police (AFP) will start to withdraw its officers from East Timor, as reinforcements begin to arrive this week. (Full Story)
  • Protesters have begun massing outside the government palace in East Timor's capital Dili, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. (Full Story)
  • Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is talking with French leaders about drafting a UN resolution to help bring stability and peace to East Timor. (Full Story)

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