A contingent of Portuguese police has been welcomed by crowds in East Timor after arriving to help with the international peacekeeping effort. 127 Portuguese policemen will operate alongside some 2000 Australian, Malaysian and New Zealender soldiers, attempting to put an end to the most serious factional in-fighting since the country gained full independence four years ago.
Rival gangs have been burning property and attacking each other in violence that began in a dispute over ethnic favouritism within the army, but has degenerated into a more general state of lawlessness. Portugal, as the colonial power in East Timor for more than 450 years, has maintained strong cultural ties and helped finance its transition to independence. But the new outbreak of violence has created a refugee crisis that will require an international response. Some 70,000 people have fled their homes and are living in cramped camps where they face food and water shortages.