August 13, 2007 / 12:29 PM / 11 years ago

Youth arrested over alleged rape at E.Timor convent

DILI, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Police in East Timor have arrested a teenaged youth suspected of raping an 11-year-old female student at a Catholic convent during violence last week in the east of the country, the United Nations said on Monday.

A priest told Reuters at the weekend that armed gangs attacked a convent he headed in the district of Baucau on Friday and assaulted female students.

The United Nations Mission in East Timor said a 16-year-old male had been arrested on suspicion he raped an 11-year old student at an orphanage attached to the convent.

"The suspect was arrested on August 11 and then escaped but surrendered again to police later in the day," the mission said in a statement.

Violence has erupted in several districts in East Timor since President Jose Ramos-Horta appointed a coalition last week led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao to govern after no party won a majority in parliamentary elections on June 30.

Ramos-Horta’s decision sparked violent protests by supporters of the former ruling party, Fretilin, which claims the right to govern after winning most votes in the polls.

It has branded the president’s move as unconstitutional and pledged to boycott the new government, installed last week with Gusmao appointed as prime minister.

Factional bloodshed broke out in the impoverished country of about 1 million people last year, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

The mayhem, during which 37 people were killed, was triggered by the previous government’s decision to sack 600 soldiers.

About 3,000 international police and troops are currently in East Timor to restore order.

Meanwhile, police said 3,000 people had fled to the hills in Viqueque district since last week after their houses were torched.

Police in Baucau said they had arrested 71 people and seized home-made weapons.

"The situation in Baucau is now calm," Baucau police chief Pedro Belo said, adding that Fretilin supporters were holding rallies in several villages.

Baucau and Viqueque are Fretilin strongholds.

Fretilin deputy secretary Jose Reis said supporters would continue to rally against the new government but would not engage in violence.

"Protesting is normal because the constitution gives us the right to protest against injustice and un-democractic acts," he told reporters.

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