Subject: AGE: Hugs, tears in Dili lift peace hopes

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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