Subject: RT: E.Timor on track to stability, elections says PM

INTERVIEW-E.Timor on track to stability, elections says PM

18 Aug 2006 07:42:02 GMT


By Jerry Norton

DILI, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Troubled East Timor is on track towards stability after months of violence and political turmoil, and elections due next year should occur on schedule, Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Calm has largely returned to the country after a wave of violence, arson and looting from April to June killed at least 20 people. Most of the chaos occurred in and around Dili, the capital of the former Portuguese colony half the size of Belgium.

More than 100,000 of the country's million people fled their homes to displaced persons camps where most remain. International troops and police led by Australia with Malaysian, New Zealand and Portuguese elements have been working to restore order.

"I would say that the security situation has much, much stabilised when compared with the dramatic events of end of May and June although we still have occasional pockets of incidents," Ramos-Horta, 56, told Reuters.

He forecast other improvements over the next six weeks as he spoke in his office in the colonial-style government complex facing the sea, dressed in a dark suit and open neck white shirt.

"I hope that towards the end of September we would have a full deployment of international police, with some Timorese police, and by then we can better secure some of the trouble spots in Dili," Ramos-Horta said.

The UN Security Council is expected to approve as early as Friday a new mission for East Timor involving more than 1,600 police, military liaison and observers, enabling round-the-clock police presence in troubled areas, said Ramos-Horta, a former foreign minister who took over as prime minister on July 10.

That could help empty the displaced person camps, which many refuse to leave because while calm has returned to most areas in the day, they fear violence at night.

The violence earlier this year included some police and army factions and others with firearms, but Ramos-Horta said the problems still occurring were mostly from organised youth gangs without guns and "based on jealousy, rivalry, resentment".


Ramos-Horta said it did not help that what he called "absurd law" imposed on East Timor by the UN meant many of those detained over the violence were released after 72 hours.

"After three days of nice meals, clothing, shower, they go back to the streets fresh to start again," he said.

It would be better to allow suspects to be held "three months, to enable the investigators to really find evidence of their criminal behaviour and their involvement or entanglement with ringleaders", he said.

The roots of the more serious initial violence were complex, with elements of political and regional rivalries flaring after then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who stepped down under pressure on June 26, sacked nearly half the country's tiny army.

Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and East Timor's representative abroad during its struggle to break free of an Indonesian occupation that lasted from 1975 to 1999, was seen as acceptable to the international community and many in Alkatiri's Fretilin party, which dominates parliament.

He said he believed an effective, visible police presence would ensure peaceful elections could be held sometime in April 2007.

In the meantime, his government has won approval for a budget aimed at creating jobs and stimulating the economy of a country where poverty and unemployment are widespread, but energy resources just being developed hold out hope of a better future.

Ramos-Horta said that "if the budget is fully implemented in this fiscal year we will be able to create 20,000 new jobs and the economy will grow by six to seven percent".

There had been talk of Ramos-Horta possibly succeeding Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general, but recent developments in East Timor make a run for the country's presidency next year or an extended period as prime minister more likely.

However, Ramos-Horta said he hasn't given up hope that the UN job might eventually come his way.

"I have time. I'm relatively young, and so I can wait."

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