DILI, East Timor – Two men were shot to death in overnight gang battles in East Timor's capital, witnesses and residents said Thursday, as foreign peacekeepers reopened the international airport that had been closed amid escalating unrest.
The two bodies were found in a neighborhood where several embassies — including those of Australia, Britain and Japan — are located along the main road to the airport, said an AP reporter and a neighbor at the scene.
Some residents said their village chief was killed when their neighborhood was attacked by hundreds of rampaging youths Wednesday night, causing many to seek shelter at a police academy.
International forces patrolled the streets on foot Thursday to restore order on the fifth day of gang warfare that has killed at least six people and wounded more than 50, including two Portuguese police officers and an Australian civilian.
Dozens of houses have been set ablaze in the unrest, which forced the closure of Dili's airport late Tuesday. The first commercial flight was to land late Thursday morning, said airport head Romaldo da Silva.
Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said in a statement from Rome that he was saddened and concerned by the bloodshed, which he blamed on "a gang of common criminals, who deliberately targeted defenseless citizens."
"Once again we see our people fighting each other resulting in pointless deaths," he said, urging all sides to remain committed to peace.
Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said he had been in contact with President Xanana Gusmao and former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri during the fighting. Alkatiri, a political opponent who resigned in June, indicated "readiness to help lessen the tension and violence," he said.
East Timor has been plagued by instability since rival security forces clashed in the capital in April and May after the government dismissed a third of the armed forces. The violence killed 33 people and drove some 155,000 from their homes.
Foreign peacekeepers took over national security, but gang warfare, looting and arson attacks have continued as the country remains split over attitudes toward more than two decades of Indonesian occupation that ended in 1999.
The most recent violence began Sunday when two men were stabbed to death near a church during evening prayers, five days after the release of a United Nations report on the causes of the conflict earlier this year.
The special U.N. commission largely blamed Alkatiri's government, saying two members of his Cabinet allegedly armed civilian militias.
In fighting Tuesday and Wednesday, two men were shot and killed and at least 12 were wounded by machetes and stone-throwing in the Comoro neighborhood, said Antonio Caleres, director of East Timor's main hospital.