E. Timor 'no walk in the park'
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(CNN) -- Australia beefed up its ground troop presence to 1,300 in volatile East Timor `to stop "outbreaks of communal and gang violence" in the tiny Asian nation, the Australian Defense Force said on Sunday.
Along with the ground troops, it has deployed Black Hawk and Sea King helicopters and ships in an operation that Prime Minister John Howard said is "quite challenging."
"Nobody should assume that it's just a simple walk-in-the-park military operation," he said.
"There's some more assets and support groups to come, but the actual force of 1,300, I was told this morning, is now on the ground," Howard said.
He said he thinks the deployment will "further stabilize the situation" in East Timor, officially known as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
"And then, of course, there'll be a very heavy responsibility on the political leadership of the country to try and heal the wounds that have brought about this situation."
The unrest in East Timor began in March, when the government fired 600 soldiers who went on strike against alleged discrimination in the military. The tensions deteriorated into chaos, spurring casualties and widespread displacement of people from the capital of Dili.
At least nine deaths were confirmed Thursday when unarmed police being escorted to safety by U.N. staff were attacked by renegade East Timorese soldiers.
The United Nations said on Saturday that all U.N. families and non-essential staff members were being relocated "to a temporary safe haven in Darwin, Australia, because of heightened security concerns."
More than 100 international staff will remain in East Timor as the others work in Darwin.
The ADF said the 1,300 troops are part of 3,000 ADF personnel working in direct support of what it calls Operation Astute.
"Of these, approximately 2,000 are deployed in the Timor-Leste area as part of the ground forces, air support element, or on supporting ships. The remainder are performing important support functions in places like Darwin, Townsville and Sydney," the ADF said in a statement.
The ADF said it has "secured priority areas that include the Comorro Airport, the U.N. Headquarters and the police headquarters" and the forces have been "deployed to the Presidential Palace and Parliamentary Complex."
"The Dili wharf precinct is secure and under ADF control. In securing the port a number of weapons from gangs in the area were confiscated. The weapons included hand-made knives, swords and small arms."
Also, these forces have helped repatriate more than 490 Australians and other foreign nationals.
Indonesia ruled East Timor for 24 years until 1999, when the territory broke away in a wave of violent protests. The United Nations administered the country for three years after that, before elections were held and East Timor stood on its own.
Prior to Indonesian rule, Portugal ruled East Timor for more than 400 years.
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