Saturday, May 27, 2006
DILI, East Timor, May 27 -- Women and children ran screaming from their homes as renegade militias burned dozens of homes in East Timor's capital Saturday, even as foreign troops worked to stem violence that threatens to split the nation.
Civilian militiamen armed with machetes and spears roamed neighborhoods in southern Dili, throwing rocks through the windows of the small, tin-roofed houses and setting them on fire.
Hundreds of panicked residents sought shelter in churches as Australian troops arrived in tanks and Land Rovers to attempt to restore order. The number of casualties wasn't known, but ambulances were seen leaving the area with sirens blaring.
The militiamen are apparently allied with police and former soldiers angered by the dismissal in March of 600 soldiers -- more than 40 percent of the country's army -- after they went on a month-long strike to protest poor working conditions.
At least 23 people have been killed in a week of fighting that poses the most serious threat to the desperately poor country since it broke free of Indonesian rule in 1999. The government asked for international help this week, saying it could not control the situation, and hundreds of Australian troops have already arrived. New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal have also agreed to send forces.