DILI, East Timor – The commander of a group of dismissed rebel soldiers demanded Thursday that East Timor's prime minister resign and be tried for allegedly ordering security forces to fire on civilians, saying it was the only way to end a wave of violence that has swept the capital.
President Xanana Gusmao, meanwhile, called on the feuding security forces to put aside their differences and help "build the nation from ashes once again," as two high profile ministers offered to take responsibility for the crisis by resigning.
At least one person was reported killed in new unrest in Dili on Thursday, despite the presence of more than 2,000 foreign peacekeepers. Rioters set fire to a whole row of shops and several vehicles in one neighborhood, and several dozen Australian troops rushed to the scene.
Fighting between factions in the armed forces has given way over the past week to gang warfare, arson and looting, forcing tens of thousands of people to abandon the city or take refuge in camps scattered across the seaside capital.
Maj. Alfredo Reinado, the fired army commander whose rebellion triggered the security breakdown, blamed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for the unrest and said it wouldn't be over until he was gone from office. He accused the prime minister of ordering troops in April to open fire on civilian demonstrators who supported the rebels. Five people were killed when rioting erupted.
"Alkatiri has to resign and go to court for all the crimes he ordered," Reinado told The Associated Press at his hillside hideout outside the smoldering capital.
Alkatiri has rejected calls for his resignation and insists he is sharing power with Gusmao, who is revered as the hero of East Timor's struggle for freedom from Indonesia. The president invoked emergency powers earlier this week to take over the government's security forces.
Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, who was asked by the government to step down, officially announced his resignation Thursday. He said he accepted "moral and political responsibility" for failing to ensure the safety of the police officers killed last week.
Defense Minister Roque Rodriguez also resigned Thursday. The government had announced earlier in this week he would be replaced.
Reinado — who said he was willing to die for his cause — led a band of 600 dismissed soldiers into clashes with loyalist security forces that precipitated Dili's descent into chaos. At least 28 people have died.
The government fired the soldiers from the 1,400-member army after they went on strike to protest alleged discrimination because they were from East Timor's western regions, seen as sympathetic to Indonesia, the country's former occupier.
Meanwhile, Gusmao urged police officers caught up in the violence to work toward peace.
Last week, soldiers shot and killed 10 police who tried to give up their weapons as part of a U.N.-negotiated cease-fire to end a siege on police headquarters. Two dozen police were wounded.
"I am proud of you because in difficult times like these you are still ready to wear your uniforms to serve this lovely nation," said Gusmao, his voice quavering with emotion as he addressed more than 100 policemen standing at their headquarters. "Forgive each other, forget the past."
Gusmao told the police they eventually would be needed to help peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal try to restore order in Dili. For now, police are confined to barracks to avoid triggering more tension, and many have fled the city in fear for their safety.
He also toured a camp, where some 5,000 people displaced by the fighting have sought refuge, promising he would do what he could to restore order.
"We have struggled for 24 years to gain independence not to come to a situation like this," Gusmao said, as he sought to console a 72-year-old man who lost his son, Joao Soares, 32, early Thursday to the fighting.
The peacekeepers expanded their operations Thursday. The bulk of New Zealand's almost 200 troops started street patrols in the troubled Becora neighborhood in the city's east, freeing up Australian troops for other duties, the government said.
The upheaval is East Timor's worst spate of violence since its break from Indonesia in 1999, when revenge-thirsty militias went on a rampage, killing nearly 1,500 people. The country became fully independent in 2002 but remains one of the world's poorest.
In a video message to Timorese, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that following the country's arduous road to independence, "you believed — and we believed — that resort to violence for political ends was becoming a thing of the past."
"That's why this new violence is so deeply disappointing," Annan said.