EAST Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta today dismissed fears the country will see a return of turmoil and violence ahead of elections next year.
Ramos-Horta, 61, who has held his post since 2007, also said he was "reluctant" to seek a second term and was considering stepping aside.
East Timor won formal independence in 2002, three years after a UN-backed referendum that saw an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia, whose 24-year occupation cost an estimated 200,000 lives.
The country has been largely peaceful since 2006, when rioting and factional fighting brought it to the brink of civil war.
But fears have been raised that East Timor's fragile stability will be tested in the coming months ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, which are due by mid-2012.
"We are not going back to the violence of the past," said Ramos-Horta, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his role in fighting for the country's independence as its exiled spokesman for 24 years.
"I know the pulse of the people, the mood the political leadership. People are much happier today ... they are much more hopeful and optimistic.
"I have met with all the political leaders in the recent past. Everybody is committed to clean, fair elections and will accept the results peacefully."
Some foreign businessmen are already talking quietly about quitting the country during the election build-up, amid widely held fears of turmoil, with land disputes, corruption, rivalries and resentments simmering.
The local police are "very capable" of handling any unrest, Ramos-Horta told AFP in an interview after speaking to investors at a forum in Hong Kong.
About 1200 UN police are still stationed in East Timor, in addition to about 500 Australian-led troops under a separate security mandate, and analysts say the local police are incapable of dealing with even minor situations.
Ramos-Horta, the second post-independence president after Xanana Gusmao - the current prime minister - also said he is not keen to defend his post next year.
"I am extremely reluctant to seek a second term," he said.
"Even if I am certain that I will be re-elected - most (recent) indicators say I will be easily re-elected - but I believe it is good for the maturity of our democracy that someone like me can consider stepping aside."
According to US cables released by WikiLeaks today, American diplomats felt Ramos-Horta believed himself to be "above local politics" and had let his Nobel peace prize "go to his head".
His office did not immediately respond to requests to comment.