Scattered Violence Continues on Smaller Scale in East Timor

Mobs looted seed from a warehouse and set fire to buildings in East Timor's capital Tuesday, underscoring the challenge for international forces and the government as they try to restore a sense of normalcy to Dili.

The unrest was less severe than the fighting between military factions and gang warfare that erupted in the capital last month, driving tens of thousands of fearful residents from their homes.

They are now living in makeshift shelters in and around the city, struggling to get by on emergency airlifts of U.N. food rations, cooking sets, tents and blankets.

CountryWatch: East Timor

Peacekeepers did not immediately intervene in the looting of the warehouse near the city center. In neighborhoods near the airport, plumes of smoke rose from buildings set on fire by groups of young men.

Australian forces blocked traffic on the main road near the airport in one of their most robust security checks in recent days. The measure came amid reports that government opponents were converging on the capital to hold a rally.

On Monday, East Timorese lawmakers discussed the country's turmoil and Foreign Minister and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta met with several rebel commanders for reconciliation talks. The dismissal of about 600 striking soldiers in March helped trigger the crisis.

"They had a good talk," ministry spokesman Chris Santos said. He gave no details, citing the sensitivity of the situation.

Parliament's session was its first since fighting surged last month in Dili, although lawmakers said some colleagues did not attend because they feared for their safety or lacked transport. Fifty legislators turned up, enough for a quorum in the 88-seat house.

Some East Timorese blame Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for the turmoil and are demanding he resign. Alkatiri oversaw the dismissal of the striking soldiers, who clashed with loyalist troops and fled to the hills. Rival gangs took to the streets in the absence of security forces.

Ramos Horta also became defense minister after an Alkatiri ally quit the post in an effort to defuse the crisis. The rebels he met Monday did not include the most prominent one, Alfredo Reinado, but Horta's office said the minister planned to visit him in the next day or two.

The goal was to explore "avenues for all-inclusive talks which will lead to a lasting resolution of the political issues," the Defense Ministry said.

East Timor faces a difficult road as it tries to heal deep divisions in the government and armed forces.

At least 30 people have died and an estimated 100,000 have fled their homes in the last month.

It is the worst violence in East Timor since its bloody break from Indonesia after 24 years of often brutal occupation in 1999, when pro-Indonesian militias devastated much of the territory.

Australia has suggested a long-term U.N.-backed security force is needed in East Timor.