Subject: Stability returns to the streets of Dili as AFP builds trust

Stability returns to the streets of Dili as AFP builds trust

08/05/2006 03:23:52 PM EDT CANBERRA TIMES

FROM the relative quiet of Canberra, these Australian Federal Police members were cast into an environment of violence and civil unrest as they entered East Timor.

But since they were first deployed to Timor in May and June, federal agents John Foster, Jaime Swift and senior Protective Services officer Tracey Lawler, have noticed a turnaround in the country.

East Timorese who had fled to the hills to escape the violence are starting to return to their villages and police have been able to build trust with local communities to uncover information about serious crimes. The trio are among about 30 Canberra-based AFP officers serving in Timor.

The head of the Australian peacekeeping mission to East Timor, Brigadier Mick Slater, said peace had returned to the capital Dili and gangs had not been seen on the streets for many weeks.

The Australian contingent that spearheaded the mission is now preparing to reduce its troop and equipment deployment in East Timor.

Federal agent Swift is working in the Criminal Investigations Unit which has been dealing mainly with murders and serious assaults. For her, winning the trust of locals has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

''The more we go and talk to the community, the more crimes we are finding out about,'' she said.

''When we first went into the villages you could just see the fear on people's faces.

''We have spent a lot of time in the villages trying to establish trust.'' Since law enforcement agencies arrived in Timor in May, they have seen significant change on the streets. ''When I first got here it was still quite volatile so it has been really heartening to see a lot of people have returned to their villages,'' she said.

Agent Foster was sent to Timor on rapid deployment, leaving behind a pregnant wife in Canberra.

''When we first got here it was civil unrest, gang fights and riots, but basically that has decreased dramatically.

''Shops are opening again and people are back on the streets.''

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