East Timor arrests alleged hit squad leader

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DILI, Oct 3 (Reuters) Police in East Timor today arrested the suspected head of a hit squad linked with a former interior minister convicted of giving weapons to civilians during a wave of violence last year, the United Nations and police said.

Vicente ''Railos'' da Conciecao was arrested at his home in Liquica district and charges against him were related to homicide, the United Nations mission in East Timor said in a statement.

He has been linked with former interior minister Rogerio Lobato who was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in March for distributing weapons and ammunition to civilians.

Violence broke out in the impoverished tiny country in May last year after the government sacked 600 mutinous members of East Timor's 1,400-strong army. At least 37 people were killed.

The chaos drove more than 100,000 people from their homes and led to the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

Railos was expected to appear in court in the capital, Dili, later today.

''Railos and five of his members are in preventive prison now,'' police operations commander Mateus Fernandes told Reuters.

Julio da Silva, a relative of Railos, said the arrest was illegal because police did not have a warrant.

East Timor voted in a 1999 referendum for independence from Indonesia, which annexed it after Portugal ended its colonial rule in 1975. The country became fully independent in 2002 after a period of UN administration.

REUTERS SG SSC1424

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