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East Timor reopens airport after gang violence

Written by: Staff

DILI, Oct 26: East Timor's main airport in the capital Dili reopened today, two days after it was closed following deadly clashes between groups of youths armed with guns, rocks, and bows and arrows.

The closure of the main air hub highlights the fragile security situation in the fledging nation, despite the presence of an Australian-led peacekeeping force.

Local officials said two people were killed in the violence but Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the death toll might be as high as four.

''We have reopened the airport today and many of our employees have come to work. A police post will be opened at the airport,'' said Romaldo da Silva, director of the East Timor civilian aviation authority.

He said the clashes had caused minor damage to the airport.

The gang fights started late on Tuesday on a main road leading to the airport, resulting in the death of one person by gunfire.

Another died in a clash early yesterday.

''We've been very concerned about the violence that took place.

Our information is not only (those two), but possibly two others have been killed as well,'' Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

The clashes broke out despite the presence of Australian troops, who led a force of foreign peacekeepers to East Timor in late May to quell fighting that pitted rival factions in the young country's security force.

Downer said Australian security forces in East Timor were investigating the violence.

''One of the possibilities is that this is linked to the United Nations report that has just been published drawing attention to prosecutions that could take place in East Timor,'' he said.

A UN report issued earlier this month called for prosecutions and further investigations against high-ranking Timor officials over the arming of civilians during a wave of violence in the tiny nation in May.


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