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NZ aid and troops for East Timor

Published: 6:56AM Saturday May 27, 2006 Source: RNZ

New Zealand is to give half a million dollars in humanitarian aid to East Timor.

The number of New Zealand troops being sent to East Timor has been boosted to just over 200.

A platoon of 42 soldiers left New Zealand on Friday and arrived in Dili on Saturday evening.  They are now guarding the New Zealand embassy in the capital. 

Meanwhile, another 130 New Zealand soldiers are now in Townsville, awaiting deployment to Dili later on Sunday.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says that while New Zealand troops are helping to restore order it is also important to address the humanitarian needs. 

Clark says the aid will be channelled through the New Zealand Red Cross and be used to supply basic needs such as shelter, water and medical care. She says the situation will be monitored in coming days to see if further assistance is needed. 

Clark says New Zealand embassy staff in Dili are also able to use the existing $4 million annual aid programme to help local communities recover from the conflict. 

At least 600 Australian troops are already in East Timor, to help restore order, after the government called for help earlier this week. 

Clark says there will be a steady build-up of troops on the ground over the weekend. She says New Zealand forces will be deployed where needed by the Australian command and she has warned that troops could remain in East Timor until elections there next year. 

The second group of New Zealand soldiers left Christchurch on Saturday afternoon.

Defence Minister Phil Goff farewelled the soldiers. He says it is disappointing for the people of East Timor that troops from New Zealand and other countries have to go back in. But he says New Zealand could not stand back and watch the situation disintegrate. 

Clark says New Zealand troops will be able to defend themselves in East Timor if they are threatened, but the main aim of the mission is to stop the bloodshed.

Gangs of youths clashed in Dili on Saturday.

Houses and cars are being torched as youths armed with daggers, machetes and slingshots rampage through the streets of the city. 

The violence was sparked by the sacking of 600 soldiers, who had claimed discrimination against them. The split in the military is reflected in the rest of the population, with gangs from the east and west of the country fighting each other.  

Australian troops have stepped up security in response to the violence, with hundreds of soldiers lining both sides of the road to the airport to ensure the vital link is kept open. 

New Zealand's ambassador to East Timor had to leave the embassy on Saturday after it  was surrounded by what is being described as "a threatening mob" of about 100 people. 

Ruth Nuttall and another staff member went to the Australian embassy, but about 25 staff remained at the New Zealand consulate.  The ministry of foreign affairs says the mob has since dispersed and none of the 25 staff which remained at the embassy were hurt. 

New Zealand Non-Government Organisations operating out of East Timor are preparing to start helping casualties of the escalating violence.

There are seven New Zealand NGOs in East Timor working on development projects such as water sanitation. 

Council for International Development executive director Rae Julian, which is an NGO umbrella group, says the organisations are starting to prepare to deal with the humanitarian situation as more people flee their homes because of  the violence.

She says hundreds of people are sheltering in churches waiting to see what will happen. 

The United Nations is preparing to evacuate most of its staff as heavy continue around the capital.