East Timor

Trial of President and PM's would-be assassins begins

Article published on the 2009-07-14 Latest update 2009-07-15 08:07 TU

José Ramos-Horta returns from hospital in Australia to Dili airport in April 2008(Photo: Reuters)

José Ramos-Horta returns from hospital in Australia to Dili airport in April 2008
(Photo: Reuters)

The trial of 28 people accused of trying to kill East Timor's President, Jose Ramos-Horta, and Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, began in East Timor's capital, Dili, on Monday. In the dock are a group of soldiers who deserted the army in 2006 and the Australian girlfriend of their leader.

Ramos-Horta was flown to Australia for emergency surgery after being shot several times during the assassination attempt. He has already declared that he has forgiven the man who shot him and may pardon the former mutineers.

"He's made it pretty clear in public statements that he will do that," says US-based Timor solidarity campaigner John Miller, adding that in previous cases Ramos-Horta has "very quickly pardoned people that have been convicted in the hopes of keeping social peace".

Comment: John Miller, US national coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network

14/07/2009 by Aidan O'Donnell

The soldiers were part of a group of 600, led by Alfredo Reinado, who deserted the East Timorese army in 2006. The rebellion triggered street fighting in which 40 people were killed and 100,000 people were driven from their homes.

But the failed assassinations brought an end to the violence which had dogged the country since independence from Indonesia in 1999.

The defendants face charges ranging from attempted murder to conspiracy to murder, arising from the co-ordinated attacks on the two leaders in February 2008.

Reinado's girlfriend, Anita Pires, who is a Timor-born Australian, is accused of taking part in the attack. She says she will not accept a pardon.

"If I have to go to jail simply because of my love for Alfredo Reinado, for my son, and for the people, so let it be. I'll face it," she told Australia'sABC television.

State prosecutors began the trial by ejecting Pires's lawyers, an Australian and a Brazilian, from the court.

"Angelita Pires supplied clothes and medicine to Alfredo Reinado and his friends," a prosecutor told the court, adding that she gave the deserters "cigarettes which can reduce fear", possibly a reference to marijuana.

The men's commander Gastao Salsinha, who took over from Reinado on his death, is accused of launching the attacks. He and his men surrendered in a formal ceremony, attended by Ramos-Horta, last year.

Salsinha denies the charges.

Miller hopes that the trial will throw light on the reasons for the attacks.

"Why they attacked, what their motives were, a lot of that just remains unclear," he says. "One of the hopes, I think, is that of the attackers and some of their alleged co-conspirators will shed some light on exactly what happened that day and why."

Source: ffi - radioranceinternationale http://www.rfi.fr

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