Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

E Timor rebels surrender arms

SHORT-TERM AGENDAPresiding over the weapons handover, the new prime minister said that he would prioritize restoring order and reviving the economy


East Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta launched into his new job yesterday with a symbolic start, collecting weapons from civilians as the nation tries to rebuild from a spate of violence.

The Nobel laureate was sworn in as the tiny nation's premier on Monday in a move that has raised hopes of stability returning after unrest rocked the capital in May, leading to the deaths of 21 people.

Ramos-Horta, who has been lobbying for the surrender of weapons that went missing in the mayhem, accepted assault rifles from Vicente "Railos" da Conceicao and dozens of his followers.

"Today is a very important day in the history of our country. We are moving forward in the process to restore peace and order in East Timor," he said in a speech to hundreds attending a ceremony for the weapons handover.

"The Railos group has given us an example of patriotism because they know that their possession of weapons was against the Constitution and law and they did not use the weapons against the people, the government and their friends in the army and police," he said.

Railos has accused Ramos-Horta's predecessor as prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, of paying his group to eliminate Alkatiri's political rivals.

Alkatiri resigned last month amid pressure to take responsibility for the crisis. He faces questioning over allegations he agreed to have his interior minister Rogerio Lobato distribute the arms. Lobato faces criminal charges.

Da Conceicao said he was sorry for having kept the weapons.

"We apologize to the people, the government, the president and the bishops and the United Nations special envoy," he said.

"We are sorry and we are ready to be punished for not carrying out the orders of Mari Alkatiri and Rogerio Lobato and for any mistakes we have made," he said.

Ramos-Horta has said there was not a "shred of evidence" that Alkatiri deliberately misled the country, but that he could have failed to check Lobato's activities.

He told state-run television late on Monday that his immediate priorities as prime minister were to restore order and strengthen the economy and that he would not embark on a major overhaul of the government.

"In my opinion ... the current government should not change much. It would take too much time to remodel or restructure it completely because we are dealing with security, refugees and the budget issue," he said.

During the violence, rival security force factions battled on Dili's normally sleepy streets and in the surrounding hills while some 150,000 refugees converged on makeshift camps. Most have since remained there, too uneasy about security in spite of the presence of around 3,200 foreign peacekeepers to return home.

Later yesterday, Ramos-Horta also accepted a report on transparency prepared last year from UN representative Sukehiro Hasegawa, according to a UN statement.

The delivery, due in April, had been delayed due to the "deteriorating security situation."

Hasegawa said that Ramos-Horta had "pledged his intention to place the highest importance in ensuring transparency and accountability in the conduct of his administration."

The new government was to be installed today and will meet tomorrow to discuss the 2006-2007 budget, he said.

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