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Timor Leste: New Prime Minister, new hope?

Updated On: Jul 14, 2006

Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta’s appointment as Prime Minister of Timor Leste on July 10 signified promise of renewed peace and hope for the troubled nation, but political tensions may be long drawn as indicated by recent news of a delay in the swearing-in of cabinet.

Jose Ramos-Horta pledged in his inauguration speech to “restore faith, hope, respect for our young democracy... in the weeks and months ahead”, but ruled out an immediate reshuffle of the government because “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.

Concrete efforts will be aimed at restoring security and re-settling the estimated 150,000 refugees in the wake of the May Dili attacks that left 21 people dead. Elsewhere in an interview with Portuguese daily newspaper Publico, the new PM also revealed priorities for reopening public schools in Dili and initiating national reconciliation talks.

The following day of the inauguration saw the new PM putting his words into action  through overseeing the surrender of arms by former guerrilla fighter, Mr Vicente "Railos" da Conceicao at a ceremony on a soccer field in the town of Liquica. Mr Vicente plays a key role in the May attacks as he had claimed that the weapons were given to him by former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato under orders from Alkatiri to wipe out the latter’s opponents.

Responding to comments by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that Canberra could soon begin considering downgrading its presence in the tiny nation since the May attacks, PM Ramos-Horta also counter-proposed for the Australian troops to remain until at least the end of the year, as well as for the peacekeeping force to come under the United Nations umbrella.

The swearing-in of Timor Leste's new government, scheduled on July 13, was delayed however, due to a request from President Xanana Gusmao who met political parties to discuss the agenda of the new administration. Presidential spokeswoman Lusitania Lopes cited “internal issues” as the reason for the delay, amid Fernando de Araujo’s (leader of the Democratic Party, the largest of the opposition parties) forewarning against Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party – currently holding 55 of the 88 seats in the parliament – from dominating the cabinet.

Such developments may throw a monkey wrench and forestall the new PM’s development efforts, especially with regard to the outstanding issue of the 2006-7 budget since the last fiscal year ended on June 30.

Sources:

Ramos-Horta takes office (Today/AFP, 11 July 2006)

Timor Leste's new PM aims to restore security (ANTARA, 11 July 2006)

East Timor's new PM makes return of refugees a priority (ANTARA, 11 July 2006)

East Timor PM urges Australian troops to stay (ANTARA, 11 July 2006)

Alleged East Timorese hit squad leader hands in weapons (The Jakarta Post/AP, 11 July 2006)

New E Timor PM starts job with weapons handover (Today/AFP, 11 July 2006)

Swearing-in of Timor Leste's cabinet delayed (AFP/Channel News Asia, 13 July 2006)