04 March 2009

28 charged over East Timor attacks

The Age 4 Marach 2009 - AUTHORITIES in Dili have charged 28 people, including Timorese-born Australian Angelita Pires, over last year's attacks on East Timor's top two political leaders.

Prosecutors say they will ask a Dili court to jail 42-year-old Pires for three years.

The former lover of slain rebel leader Alfredo Reinado will face 19 counts of being the indirect author of attempted murder, including that of President Jose Ramos Horta.

She is also charged with providing some kind of cigarette to Reinado days before the attacks which made him "fearless".

Pires, who has been held in Dili for 12 months without charge, strongly denies any wrongdoing.

The charges centre on claims that she influenced Reinado to stage the attacks. Court documents allege she was overheard urging Reinado to kill Mr Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Pires asked not to be quoted when she spoke with The Age from her home in Dili yesterday.

Most of those charged were members of Reinado's gang who were involved in the attacks on February 11 last year, including his second-in-command, Gastao Salsinha. All are charged with counts of being the indirect authors of attempted murder.

In court documents, Marcelo Caetano is accused of shooting Mr Ramos Horta twice in the back at his presidential villa on Dili's outskirts. Caetano, a member of Reinado's gang, has repeatedly denied being the attacker.

Court documents allege that one of Mr Ramos Horta's security guards identified Caetano as the attacker.

For months after the attacks, Caetano was hunted in East Timor's mountains by hundreds of troops and police, including Australian SAS commandos.

But confusion has surrounded his role since he surrendered with other rebels last April. In October, Mr Ramos Horta told The Age that Caetano was not the man who shot him. Mr Ramos Horta said he found the man who shot him in Dili's Becora jail last year. "He couldn't look me in the eye," the President told The Age at the time.

Shortly before Christmas, Mr Ramos Horta met a small group of rebels in the presence of Longuinhos Monteiro, East Timor's Prosecutor-General, who led the investigation.

Mr Ramos Horta later told journalists he pleaded with his attacker to confess "so that others who were with you but not directly involved with the shooting of me are not penalised".

Strict secrecy has surrounded Mr Monteiro's investigation, which was hampered by a reluctance of East Timor soldiers to fully co-operate and contamination of crime scenes.

The weapons of soldiers who were guarding Mr Ramos Horta were not handed over for Australian Federal Police ballistics tests until three weeks ago. The results are not yet available.

Last month, Mr Monteiro told journalists in Dili that the results of earlier ballistics tests in Australia did not "feel right".

Prosecutors raced to meet today's legal deadline to submit the cases to a court. The trials of the accused are set to begin within weeks.

Images added by ETLJB: Angelita Pires. Alfredo Reinado (deceased).

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