The East Timor quagmire
Analysts warn Australia may have stumbled into a "mission impossible" in nearby East Timor, where its troops dominate an international force of more than 2,000 soldiers and police seeking to end a lawless rampage that threatens to devolve into civil war.It seems to be an island with little emotional maturity and with Muslim religious bigots bent on genocide and destruction, although most of the stories omit the part about the Muslim mischief makers.
East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao, yesterday declared a state of emergency and assumed sole command of security in the world's newest country, hoping to end the violence that has left at least 27 persons dead and much of the capital city of Dili a smoldering ruin.
The state of emergency will last for 30 days, during which time authorities, including foreign forces, will have the power to stop large gatherings, demand identity papers, carry out surveillance and seize weapons, ammunition and explosives.
The much-criticized prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, will remain in office, but with severely curtailed powers, and Mr. Gusmao said he reserved the right to declare more severe measures under a state of siege if necessary.
With the East Timor deployment, Australia has troops in six countries, more than at any time since World War II, prompting public questions about whether the military will be able to maintain its commitment in Iraq. Australia has 1,400 soldiers in Iraq, about 400 in Afghanistan, 400 in the Solomon Islands and about 200 each in Sudan and the Sinai Peninsula.