Subject: AP: East Timor PM, Dismissed Soldiers Meet

Associated Press September 26, 2006

East Timor PM, Dismissed Soldiers Meet

East Timor's prime minister met Tuesday with hundreds of soldiers whose dismissal earlier this year sparked fierce gunbattles in the capital, and the eventual installation of a new government.

Jose Ramos-Horta told the men, who have been based in a camp on Dili's outskirts for more than six months, that he was willing to listen to their grievances and to provide back pay.

He said those who were not involved in violence that wracked the tiny nation in May could be eligible to return to their jobs. The fighting between rival factions of the armed forces gave way to gang warfare, arson and looting.

"I came here today to meet with the (dismissed soldiers) and to see for myself how they are doing economically," the Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister told reporters. "I also want to hear their complaints."

Then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed 591 soldiers from the 1,400-member army in March after they waged a strike for months to protest alleged discrimination in the military.

At least 30 people were killed and 130,000 driven from their homes in fighting that followed the dismissal but eased with the arrival of thousands of international peacekeepers and the installation of a new government headed by Ramos-Horta.

The prime minister said until the government had completed its investigation into events leading to the crisis, the dismissed soldiers "still have the right to receive their salaries every month."

"Those soldiers who really wish return to the army" may still have that opportunity, he added.

---------------------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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