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Timor police use tear gas to disperse ex-fighters

Reuters - July 20, 2004

Dili – Police in East Timor fired tear gas on Tuesday to disperse dozens of former freedom fighters demonstrating outside the main government building demanding more reform, eyewitnesses and police said.

About 20 of the 100 or so demonstrators were arrested. The crowd, many of whom had fought Indonesian forces before the territory voted for independence in 1999, started protesting on Monday evening.

They remained through the night until fighting broke out on Tuesday morning, said a Reuters journalist at the scene. Police shot tear gas canisters into the crowd. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Demonstrators carried banners demanding reform of the tiny country's police force and calling for greater democracy.

East Timor police spokesman Ismail da Costa Babo said many of the protesters just wanted jobs and the situation in the capital had returned to normal after the protesters were dispersed.

"They staged a small demonstration in front of the central public administration building," Babo told Reuters via telephone. "It is their right to deliver their opinion. We're doing our job," he said.

During the protest, demonstrators carried a coffin covered by a cloth with a skeleton and the inscription "justice".

After an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia in 1999 that was marked by violence blamed mainly on pro-Jakarta militia members, East Timor was under United Nations administration until 2002.

It then became a separate country, but widespread poverty and unemployment persists, and its small size means East Timor faces severe economic challenges.

Much of East Timor's infrastructure was destroyed or damaged in the struggle for independence. It has significant energy resources but these are still being developed.