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East Timor has asked for outside help to restore order.

East Timor has asked for outside help to restore order. (Reuters)

Aust to send troops to E Timor

Australia is to send up to 1,300 troops to East Timor after receiving an official request to help restore order in the troubled country.

After several days of gunfights between the East Timorese military and rebel soldiers, the East Timorese Government has asked for assistance from foreign troops and police.

Acting Prime Minister, Peter Costello, says the federal Cabinet's National Security Committee considered the East Timorese request.

"Subject to appropriate conditions being agreed between our two governments, we will provide military assistance to re-establish and maintain public order," Mr Costello said.

"Once conditions have been agreed with the Vice Chief of the Defence Force tomorrow, the Australian Government will confirm the deployment."

Mr Costello says an advance group of Australian Defence and foreign affairs officials should arrive in Dili on Thursday to discuss details of the deployment.

He says the composition of the force and Australia's role are yet to be negotiated with East Timorese authorities.

"Australia stands ready to assist East Timor to re-establish and maintain public order, our force has been in a high state of readiness now for some time, once an agreement is reached, we'll be able to move quite quickly."

Numbers

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson told Lateline Australia had offered between 1,000 and 1,300 troops as well as three warships, helicopters, armoured personal carriers and heavy airlift capabilities.

Essentially, one battalion group. That would involve three ships, in particular, Tobruk, Kanimbla and Manoora.

"Also of course, infantry and heavy airlift and we would bring to the task whatever other elements we thought were appropriate.

"It's important to us in the first instance that if we do respond to the request - and certainly we've decided in principle to do that - it's important to make sure that we have a size and composition which we are confident can ensure the peace and security of the people of East Timor."

Dr Nelson says the safety of Australian troops is a priority.

"The size of the force will be appropriate to the task we believe lies ahead of us," he said.

"We will be discussing that through Lieutenant-General Ken Gillespie tomorrow morning with the East Timorese Government."

He says Australian troops will have a role as peacekeepers and peace makers.

"Well, the rules of engagement will be those that are normally used," he said.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, says Australian troops could be deployed within 48 hours following the request.

Request

The East Timorese Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, earlier asked for troops and police to be sent from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal to help calm unrest around Dili.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says the Government has decided to withdraw most of the 400 troops it deployed to the Solomons as calm had returned after riots sparked by election unrest.

He says about 140 soldiers will remain, supported by forces from New Zealand and Fiji.

Australia led a UN-backed intervention force to East Timor in 1999 to quell violence by Indonesian troops and pro-Jakarta local militias after the independence vote.

Australia's 1999 military deployment to East Timor soured relations with Indonesia for several years.

The United Nations ran the nation of about 1 million until independence in May 2002.

Portugese commitment

Portugal will send 120 military police troops to East Timor to help maintain order in the country, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

"The Portuguese government already responded to the appeal by the East Timorese authorities, confirming its readiness to take part - at first with a contingent of military police troops - in the multinational force," the ministry said in a statement.

Tensions

Tensions in East Timor have been escalating since some 600 soldiers, out of a total of 1,400, were sacked in March when they deserted their barracks after complaining of regional discrimination in promotions.

At the end of April a rally in support of the soldiers in the capital Dili turned into a riot after security forces opened fire on the crowd, sparking clashes which left five people dead.

Shootings between a group of rebel military policemen led by an Australian-trained major and loyal government troops killed at least one person and wounded six in East Timor on Tuesday.

Led by Major Alfredo Reinhado, the rebel group has remained in the hillside town of Aileu near Dili since May 4, fuelling fear of further violence in the capital.

"I can confirm that (Major) Reinhado, against all the promises he made before, took up arms and attacked a unit of the armed forces," East Timor's Minister for State Ana Pessoa told Lisbon-based news radio TSF.

"I can also confirm that there is a group of people with arms trying to enter into Dili."




Related Video Related Video

East Timorese leaders have decided to ask for outside assistance to stop continuing fighting in the capital, Dili.

Audio Related Audio

Violence in East Timor has flared again and the East Timorese Government is holding an emergency meeting about resurging violence in and around the capital Dili.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has confirmed there has been renewed fighting in East Timor and that it has included gunshot fire outside the military barracks in Dili.

Keryn Clarke, who works with the non-government organisation, Oxfam, in Dili, spoke to our reporter David Hardaker about the situation in East Timor.

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