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By Heda Bayron
Bangkok
11 January 2009

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta says his country has returned to peace and economic recovery after a spate of violence that led to last year's assassination attempt against him.

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta gestures during his speech at Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, 11 Jan 2009
East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta gestures during his speech at Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok, 11 Jan 2009
Less than a year after surviving an assassination attempt, President Jose Ramos-Horta says the government has resolved the dispute with dismissed rebel soldiers who unleashed violence in the country in the last two years.

Mr. Ramos-Horta says he has even met and shook hands with the rebel soldier he says shot him twice in the back in February last year. The incident shocked the small, struggling Southeast Asian nation that officially won independence from Indonesia in 2002.

"[The] immediate positive consequence of that was the country immediately stood back from conflict and entered a period of peace as we never witnessed in our country," he said during a speech while visiting Bangkok, Thailand.

Many of the rebel soldiers have surrendered and are now in prison awaiting trial.

But last month, Australian media reported that the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations warned in a report that East Timor is at "risk of anarchy" if its economic problems are not addressed. East Timor is among the world's poorest nations, with unemployment at about 50 percent.

Mr. Ramos-Horta said the government has started giving cash handouts to the East Timorese from its growing petroleum fund and has been pushing for Asian nations and Australia to hire East Timorese labor. He admits challenges abound, among them the continued reorganization of the police force.

In 2006, a third of the nation's police force were fired and subsequently mutinied - killing dozens of people and displacing thousands. That violence culminated in the shooting of Mr. Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao last year.

Mr. Ramos-Horta won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign for East Timor's independence from Indonesia. East Timor's vote for independence in 1999 was marred by violence led by pro-Indonesia militias. The fighting resulted in hundreds of deaths and in the deployment of peace keepers into East Timor. A 2,500-strong international security force, mostly Australians, remains in the country today. 

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