East Timor calm after rioting, Bishop Belo apologizes to Muslims

DILI, East Timor - East Timor was calm Friday after rioting left two people dead and dozens of shops destroyed, and Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo apologized to the country's tiny Muslim minority after a mosque was damaged in the unrest.

It still wasn't clear exactly what led to the violence. Trouble started Tuesday after 500 students gathered at police headquarters in the capital Dili to demand the release of a fellow student arrested for alleged gang violence. But officials said other reasons were to blame.

The rioting was the worst unrest East Timor has seen since it became the world's newest nation in May and highlights rising discontent. Most of East Timor's 800,000 people are desperately poor and have seen few benefits of independence.

Belo's comments suggest tension between the nation's Catholic majority and the few hundred Muslims who live there may also have contributed to the violence.

Windows were broken at the mosque, four cars burned and a small shop connected to the mosque destroyed. No churches were damaged during the riots.

"I apologize on behalf of the Christian people for the violence against the Muslims," Belo said. "I wish for peace and solidarity among the East Timorese people. We have to work together even though we come from different religions."

U.N. Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations Vic Josey said it wasn't clear what was behind the fighting.

"There were many incidents. Some were related to certain groups, some were related to certain business. This was a mob. It was a riot situation. Whatever was in their path led to some sort of destruction. Whether there was anything behind it, I'm not in a position to say," he said.

Police have arrested 80 people allegedly involved in the rioting.

Armed U.N. peacekeepers Friday guarded banks and government buildings, including Parliament.

Rioting on this week's scale hasn't been seen since Indonesia's army and its militia proxies laid waste to much of East Timor after its people voted overwhelmingly for independence in a 1999 U.N. referendum.

International peacekeepers intervened to halt that violence and placed East Timor under U.N. rule until independence in May.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday that East Timor "is now just an independent country."

The U.N. mission still has "residual responsibilities in the area of police training" in the fledgling country, Eckhard said, responding to reporters' questions at a briefing.

But he said that "peacekeepers, in other words military troops from the U.N., cannot swing into action anywhere in East Timor except at the request of the sovereign government."