New Zealand has plans to evacuate its citizens from East Timor

New Zealand has plans in place to evacuate its nationals and others from troubled East Timor and would send troops if requested, but a senior official said Tuesday such talk was premature.

In the past two weeks violent protests have rocked East Timor, with at least five people left dead when violence erupted during a protest by soldiers sacked for desertion.

Australian navy ships have been positioned on standby in Australia's northern waters as a precaution ahead of this week's meeting of East Timor's ruling party.

East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has not asked for help, but observers warn the situation could worsen with a move to depose him as leader of the ruling Fretilin party.

"There is a possibility that things could deteriorate around the time of the Fretilin congress this week and obviously we're liaising closely with Australia, with our people on the ground in East Timor, with the United Nations," New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff told reporters Tuesday.

"If need be ... New Zealand would play a part in evacuation and if called up by the United Nations or the East Timor government we would consider sending troops to assist," Goff said.

"Any intervention, of course, would have to be on ... an invitation from the East Timor government or from the United Nations," he said.

But New Zealand was not expecting an approach "at this point," he added.

"It's really important that the East Timorese take control over their own situation rather than see an outside intervention as the first, best solution to the internal difficulties that they are suffering," Goff said, reports the AP.

I.L.