Hugs, tears in Dili lift peace hopes

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin
November 15, 2006

AFTER months of violence, hundreds of youths from rival gangs have
gathered on the streets of Dili to embrace each other, shed tears and
celebrate a fragile peace.

“It seems that peace, not war, is breaking out in East Timor,” the
country’s Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said yesterday.

Despite more than 60,000 people still living in squalid refugee camps
too afraid to return to their homes, and armed rebels remaining at
large in East Timor’s mountains, Mr Ramos Horta said recent meetings
involving himself, President Xanana Gusmao and leaders of the
country’s army and police may mark the end of months of violence that
left more than 30 dead and 2000 homes and buildings destroyed.

The Prime Minister said he had heard “honest and humble words” from
the army and police leaders and they had pledged to work together for
reconciliation, stability and peace.

“To consolidate peace, much more needs to be done in the coming days
and weeks, but no matter what obstacles are placed in front of us we
will not give up on seeking peace, harmony and democracy,” he said in
a statement released in Dili.

Mr Ramos Horta said that over the past few days more than 1000 youths
had shed tears and embraced each other in peace rallies on the main
road between Dili and the airport, the scene of some of the worst
recent violence. A formal meeting of all of East Timor’s political
actors would be held in Dili on November 21.

Mr Ramos Horta, who took office in June at the height of political
upheaval, said that as Defence Minister it was his responsibility to
ensure East Timor’s 800-strong military was armed, but he said he
would not buy more weapons for the police or army.

“There are too many weapons in our country as it is,” he said.

“All of us have seen too much killing, too much violence and too much mourning.

“I see my role as looking after the minds and souls of our military
and police. Enough of guns!”


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