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East Timor PM says won't resign

The embattled PM, Mari Alkatiri rejected a demand by the leader of rebel troops in the tiny country to resign.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 13:44 IST

East Timor's embattled Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri on Friday rejected a demand by the leader of rebel troops in the tiny country to resign and instead called on the soldiers to hand in their weapons.

"I will not resign," Alkatiri said, one day after rebel commander Major Alfredo Reinado said the prime minister would have to step down to bring an end to the chaos that has rocked the country.

Weeks of violence first erupted when Alkatiri sacked 600 of the nation's roughly 1,400 soldiers after they went on strike to protest what they said was discrimination against troops from the west of the country.

Reinado on Thursday said he was in command of those troops and that they remained loyal to President Xanana Gusmao, but that Alkatiri could not remain in office.

However, Reinado, has said he would stay in the luxury hotel he has occupied in his mountain headquarters in the town of Maubisse until his "supreme commander" Gusmao orders him back to violence-wracked Dili.

Alkatiri on Friday called on the troops to turn in their weapons.

"There should be a decision by the irregular forces to hand in their weapons and I hope they will participate to help solve this whole problem, this crisis," the prime minister said.

He accepted responsibility for the crisis but denied losing the confidence of the people.

"As a person -- no; as prime minister -- yes," he said.

"Everywhere when a crisis happens there are people saying the government should have done more," he added.

"Maybe we could have done more but we have been dealing with multiple problems, multiple issues in the development of the country, multiple sporadic issues here and there.

"East Timor is a very young country, a very young government building institutions starting from scratch. There is no government that doesn't make mistakes."

Alkatiri also expressed confidence that civil war would be averted between western and eastern ethnic groups whose deep-seated enmity exploded to the surface.

"If there is really a confrontation between Lorusae and Loromonu it will be a disaster for this country but I am confident it will never happen," he added, referring to the eastern and western ethnic groups.

Gusmao has made an emotional appeal for rivals from the east and west to forgive each other, pleading for unity to end weeks of violence.

Alkatiri, who has been overshadowed by the folk-hero status of charismatic Gusmao, has also rejected calls from protesters in the streets of Dili calling for his resignation.

He is seen as a career politician who has risen through the ranks of the ruling Fretilin party by assiduously courting factional allies.

Two ministers responsible for security in East Timor formally resigned this week, but looting continued on Friday after a mob of 300 people ransacked a government warehouse.

More than 2,000 Australian and other foreign troops were called in to quell the weeks of unrest, which has left at least 20 people dead.