11 January 2009

East Timor president recognises the man who shot him

Bangkok, Jan 11 (DPA) East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta said Sunday he recently shook hands with the rebel soldier who shot him last year, but had not yet named him to prosecutors.

Horta, who was in Bangkok for a peace seminar, told an audience that Dec 26 he shook hands with the man who shot him Feb 11, leaving him on the verge of death.

‘He still hasn’t had the courage to tell the prosecutor it was him, and I haven’t told the prosecutor because I hope that he will tell the court,’ said Horta.

President Horta, the 1996 Nobel peace laureate, was shot by a rebel soldier in Dili and lost 4 litres of blood before he was admitted to an Australian medical clinic for emergency treatment.

He spent 10 days in Darwin, Australia, in a critical condition but survived the assault and is now in good health.

‘The immediate consequence is that the country stood back from our conflict, and we entered a period of peace as never witnessed in our country,’ said Horta referring to the unsuccessful assassination attempt.

Horta’s yet-unnamed assailant was one of 700 disgruntled East Timorese soldiers who rebelled against the government over lack of pay and other complaints early last year.

Shortly after the near-slaying, the rebels entered negotiations with the Dili government and surrendered in May. Leaders of the group are now awaiting trial.

‘Since then I have met with them, including the gentleman who shot me,’ Horta said. ‘I shook hands with him on December 26, which was my birthday.’

Horta said he had no doubt about the culprit.

‘I saw his face, his eyes, and I flashed back to February 11th, and that was the person,’ he said. Horta was only about 20 metres from his assailant when he was shot at with an AK-47.

The president said he had seen the assailant and quickly turned, avoiding being shot in the chest and perhaps saving his own life.

‘I believe it was an irrational act on that morning,’ he said of the attack. ‘I just hope that he will step forward and say ‘yes, I did it’, and say why he did it.’

Ironically, Horta was the chief proponent of opening negotiations with the rebellious soldiers to meet their demands. That process is now underway.

East Timor is one of the world’s newest countries. A former colony of Portugal, it was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975.

A plebiscite calling for independence in 1999 led to a bloody crackdown by Indonesian soldiers that killed hundreds and left the country in ruins, prompting international intervention by United Nations peacekeeping forces.

East Timor, also called Timor Leste, gained its sovereignty in May 2002.


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