Subject: AFP: East Timor soldiers, police parade in gesture of reconciliation

Agence France Presse -- English

November 15, 2006

East Timor soldiers, police parade in gesture of reconciliation

DILI, Nov 15 2006

Nearly 1,000 soldiers and police paraded on the streets of East Timor's capital Dili Wednesday in an apparent gesture of reconciliation after their differences contributed to unrest earlier this year.

Some 600 members of the Fretilin National Armed Forces (F-DTL) arrived at the government office in downtown Dili on board scores of vehicles while about 300 members of the national police (PNTL) marched from their headquarters.

Hundreds of onlookers crowded the area to watch the parade and cheer them.

Both contingents and the area around the government office were tightly guarded by armed members of the UN police. While many of the soldiers were carrying rifles, the police came unarmed.

"The wounds of recent events are healing and our forces are showing us the way towards a lasting peace," President Xanana Gusmao said according to a statement from the prime minister's office.

"I am moved by the unity and friendship shown by our soldiers and police, and particularly by their leaders. They have faced a most severe ordeal and emerged even stronger," Gusmao added.

The rally followed a series of meetings between the country's leaders, the heads of the police and military, the church and top politicians.

Soldiers and police were involved in violence that rocked Dili and surrounding towns in April and May, following the dismissal of almost a third of the armed forces by then prime minister Mari Alkatiri.

Some 600 soldiers deserted the forces, citing discrimination within the ranks. Their protest quickly degenerated into street violence, including between gangs of youth and between ethnic groups, that left 37 people dead.

Their numbers have since been reduced to 1,100, but bolstered by the presence of some 1,000 UN police whose forces will eventually be increased to 1,600.

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