05 November 2008

East Timor: When the President met his attacker

Sydney Morning Herald Lindsay Murdoch in Darwin October 31, 2008 - EAST TIMOR'S President, Jose Ramos-Horta, has found the man who shot and almost killed him, instantly recognising him during a visit to Dili's Becora jail.

"I stared at him. He turned away, embarrassed and couldn't look me in the eye," Mr Ramos-Horta told the Herald yesterday. "I have been waiting for him to come forward and confess his crimes."

Mr Ramos-Horta said the man he identified as having shot him twice in the back in Dili on February 11 was not Marcelo Caetano, the rebel named as his attacker who was hunted in East Timor's mountains by hundreds of soldiers, including Australia's SAS commandos. "Marcelo Caetano was wrongly accused," Mr Ramos-Horta said. "I never said it was him. It was a media beat-up."

Mr Ramos-Horta realised the mistake in April, when Caetano, a member of the gang of the renegade soldier Alfredo Reinado, surrendered with other rebels. Rather than "deep anger" showing on the face of the President when he met Caetano, as one Australian newspaper reported, Mr Ramos-Horta said he was upset that a dreadful mistake had been made.

Mr Ramos-Horta said the man who shot him was one of Reinado's gang, among a group of 22 rebels held in Becora jail until East Timor's prosecutor-general completes an investigation into the attacks. "Those rumours and innuendo that it was an element of [East Timor's army] or somebody else who shot me are absolutely wrong," he said.

Mr Ramos-Horta, who survived the attack after emergency surgery in Darwin, said he had not asked the name of the man he identified as his attacker.

"I await the legal process," he said. "If or when the prosecutor wants me to come face to face with the man in an identification parade, I will do it."

Mr Ramos-Horta said he saw the man from less than 20 metres. "I looked at the intent in his eyes and at that precise moment I turned to run and he shot me twice in the back."

He was not worried the investigation into the attacks was not complete. East Timorese knew the basic facts about what happened and prosecutions would begin in February.

"What they know is that the President was shot by elements of Alfredo Reinado on February 11," Mr Ramos-Horta said. Reinado and one of his men were shot dead at Mr Ramos-Horta's house.

Mr Ramos-Horta was visiting Darwin yesterday, where, in an address to the Parliament, he urged the Northern Territory to develop close ties with East Timor.

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