About 200 soldiers from East Timor's army join strike

Around 200 more soldiers from East Timor's 1,500-strong army have joined a strike over poor conditions and selective promotions, officials said Thursday.

The troops walked out of their barracks to join the 400 who have been on strike since Feb. 8, said Gastao Salsinha, a coordinator of the strike.

The soldiers have refused to return to duty, demanding an independent investigation into their complaints about working conditions and promotion rules. They delivered a petition to President Xanana Gusmao, who urged them to return to barracks and promised a government inquiry.

"We demand the government and President Gusmao set up a good mechanism to solve our problem because more and more soldiers are on strike," said Salsinha, adding that a total of 593 troops had now joined the action.

A military spokesman said he could not confirm that the strike was spreading.

"I have not heard that. We will need to investigate the report," said Col. Lere Anan Timor, deputy chief of the East Timor Defense Force.

The defense force was formed six years ago, when the United Nations took over control of the nascent country following an independence referendum that ended Indonesia's brutal, 24-year occupation. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after local leaders proclaimed independence following the end of Portuguese colonial rule, reports the AP.


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