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East Timor and Somalia: Two Different Reactions to Peacekeepers

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

East Timor asked for United Nations peacekeepers following the recent riots there. But international peacekeeping forces are not always welcomed.

The Somali parliament wants African troops to help return law and order after fifteen years without a strong government. But the plan has slowed talks between the temporary government and the Islamic Courts Union. That group recently declared the capture of areas including Mogadishu, the capital.

Somalia is an extremely poor nation of about ten million people. It became independent in nineteen sixty after rule by Britain and Italy. Since nineteen ninety-one, different groups have struggled for control.

American troops intervened at the end of nineteen ninety-two to provide security for United Nations efforts to aid millions of Somalis.

In nineteen ninety-three, eighteen Americans died in a battle in Mogadishu. American troops left the following year. United Nations peacekeepers left the year after that.

A two-year-old temporary government is based in Baidoa. This week, the parliament accepted a proposal by the African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development to send peacekeepers.

People in Baidoa demonstrated in support of the plan. But protests included a march Friday in Mogadishu by several thousand people organized by the Islamic Courts Union.

The chairman of the Islamic Courts Union has written to American officials. He said his group would help prevent Somalia from becoming a refuge for terrorists. Western nations worry it may be too late.

Foreign governments are believed to be helping warlords who oppose the group. An American official said Friday that the group will be judged by its actions.

Also this week, the United States held an international meeting in New York to discuss Somalia. And United Nations officials said as many as two million Somalis need food aid.

In East Timor, President Xanana Gusmao thanked peacekeepers from Australia and other nations for returning order. He said the government was partly to blame for the recent violence because it was unable to solve the nation’s problems.

Economic progress has been slow. East Timor hopes to earn lots of money from oil found under the Timor Sea. Yet for now many people are unemployed.

In May, East Timor celebrated the fourth anniversary of international recognition of its independence. U.N. peacekeepers left the former Indonesian province last year. Now East Timor wants them back.

The violence involved different groups of East Timorese. At least thirty people were killed; one hundred thousand fled their homes.

It began after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed six hundred soldiers in March. They were protesting what they said was unfair treatment of soldiers from the western side of East Timor.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I’m Steve Ember.