23 February 2009

Angelita Pires - Caught in a political web of intrigue in East Timor

Northern Territory News (Australia) February 21, 2009 Saturday Caught in a political web of intrigue By SALLY McDONALD - 'I am a scapegoat', says lover of slain rebel leader Reinado.

THE Australian Embassy in Dili is "raising concerns'' with East Timorese authorities about the legal limbo of former Darwin resident Angelita Pires, according to documents obtained by the Northern Territory News.

Investigations into the shooting of President Jose Ramos Horta on February 11, 2008 have dragged on for over a year, with Ms Pires, 42, forced to stay in the country as a named suspect in the case.

According to Australian government correspondence, East Timor's Prosecutor-General originally said investigations would be submitted to the courts by the end of January this year -- but the latest news from his office is that it will be concluded early in March.

Meanwhile, Ms Pires protests her innocence and wants the matter finalised immediately.

She has been given full briefings after a January 9 meeting between the Australian ambassador in Dili and East Timor authorities and a meeting held one month later between Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa.

"They [the Prosecutor-General's office] said I'm not the big person they're after but I may be accused of low-level conspiracy,'' she said.

'I don't know what that means -- I've gone from being a terrible, terrible person to not being that deeply involved. Everyone knows there isn't any evidence and so they're just using me as a scapegoat.''

Irrespective of the outcome of investigations, Ms Pires has had a terrible year.

Her lover was killed, she lost her unborn child, she was arrested and released twice, she has had her passport confiscated and she's been relying on donations from her family back in Australia and neighbours in Dili as she cannot find paid work.

"When it is the President who is speaking ill of me, who is going to give me a job?''

For the past year, Ms Pires has pined for her home in Australia and desperately wants to visit her family in Darwin.

'I grew up in Australia where the rule of law and respect for human rights is normal, so once you lose all of that you realise what a lucky country we come from.''

Her mother, Maria Pires, 70, tirelessly protests on her behalf and even tried to speak directly to East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta when he was in Darwin.

She is worried about her daughter's health and welfare as investigations drag on.

``I'm very sad and very upset as until now nothing has happened,'' she said. ``Why doesn't the East Timorese government let her go, let her come home.''

Ms Pires' brother, Antonio, is gunned-down East Timorese rebel leader scathing about what he sees as a lack of support by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Up until this point, DFAT has ignored our requests and not even kept the family updated,'' he said.

"But I guess one year on, they finally realised they have to do something.''

If delays continue beyond the Prosecutor-General's March 4 deadline, the Australian Embassy in Dili has said it would ask if Ms Pires could come back to Australia to visit her family under the proviso that she'd return to East Timor for court hearings at a later date.

Having waited on deadlines before, Ms Pires is not too optimistic about resolving her legal limbo situation. "I don't know,'' she said. "They may extend the date again as the legal system here is very dysfunctional.''

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