East Timor residents flee capital

Rumors circulated by mobile phone text messages of an imminent attack by disgruntled ex-soldiers who clashed violently with police last week prompted thousands of residents to flee East Timor's capital on Friday, officials and witnesses said.

Residents started leaving their homes a week after clashes between hundreds of former soldiers and police left five people dead and dozens injured, violence that has prompted fears the government in Dili has lost control.

Political leaders said Friday the situation was calm and appealed to frightened inhabitants to return to the city.

Nearly 600 soldiers were fired in March for going on strike and have threatened to wage a guerrilla war if the government fails to reinstate them with better terms of employment.

Phone text messages said the ex-soldiers, supported by some police and military elements, were planning to attack the capital and the army headquarters on Friday. The origin of the messages was impossible to acertain.

"I have decided to leave Dili with my whole family since East Timor's police and military are not united in solving the crisis," said Archngo Moniz, a taxi driver, as he prepared to leave for the town of Maliana, about 30 kilometer (20 miles) west of Dili. "I don't want to suffer anymore, it was enough to have suffering under Indonesia," he said.

Another resident, Jose Gusmao, criticized the government for not resolving the crisis with ex-soldiers more quickly.

"The government is too slow in handling the current situation," he said, "I'm leaving Dili because it is not safe anymore for me and my family...I don't want to fight with my fellow countrymen,” reports the AP.


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