07 March 2009

Pires charges show justice a casualty of Ramos Horta attack

NT: Paul Toohey | March 07, 2009 Article from: The Australian - ANGELITA Pires was born in East Timor and came to Darwin with her family as a young girl during the civil strife of 1975 and the lead-up to the Indonesian takeover of the country.

She thinks of Darwin as her home.

Pires, a dual Australian-Timorese citizen, is a prisoner of East Timor, unable to leave the country after attracting a series of charges that seek to blame her, along with others, for the shooting of President Jose Ramos Horta on February 11 last year.

Pires is 42 and beautiful. She is one of many East Timorese-born Australians who went back after 1999 to be part of the new nation. She has said she wished she'd never stepped back into East Timor.

In the macho world of East Timor politics it is not surprising, but somehow still astonishing, that it is Pires who has received most of the serious charges over February 11.

Pires, who was the lover of major Alfredo Reinado, who was shot dead inside Ramos Horta's compound on the morning of February 11, was nowhere near the place. It hasnever been suggested she was. Yet Pires has been hit with 19 charges of attempted murder and one charge of conspiring to kill the President.

The 10 surviving rebels who accompanied Reinado each have been charged with 12 counts of attempting to kill the President. How that works out is anyone's guess, other than to say East Timor has created a new kind of gender imbalance.

Likewise, the 17 rebels led by Reinado's offsider, lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, who fired on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's motorcade that same morning, have each been charged with seven counts of attempted homicide.

The rebels have given accounts of how Pires, in the days before the shooting, allegedly gave Reinado one joint, which he forced them to smoke.

They say because of this one joint they became fearless and went down to Dili to do their business. And they blame Pires for it.

Pires is limited in what she can say. She has only proclaimed her innocence and said the matter was in God's hands.

It is, however, in the hands of the court. Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro alleges Pires urged Renaido to go to Dili and attack the leaders. If that is so, she ought to be charged with conspiracy to murder, not attempted homicide.

For the 24 years of Indonesian occupation, East Timor seemed a long way from Darwin. The liberation built a sudden bridge, and once the Interfet soldiers had cleared the streets, Dili became a town of celebration as the diaspora made its way home, along with all sorts of suspicious "logistics" companies, carpetbaggers and the UN.

There was a belief that there would be strong business links to Timor and that the fabled gateway to Asia would finally find a partnership between Darwin and Dili.

The Northern Territory Government put a man in Dili to pave the way for Australian business and, for a while, it looked as if there was some progress. That all seems to have fallen apart.

The Australian lawyers who went after 1999 to help the legal system get a solid footing have since vanished, repelled by apparent corruption and the propensity of the place to explode into violence. For those who condemned the Fretilin government -- and I was one of them -- it now seems that they were a better lot than the great libertines who replaced them.

Gusmao has been to Darwin and Canberra, asking Australia to take Timorese guest workers. It doesn't seem a bad idea and once again reinforces how close we are, geographically. But that's all.

Pires's mother, Maria, 70, who left Timor in 1975 and lives in an old housing commission home in Darwin's northern suburbs, always hoped to return to Dili one day.

"From the beginning I had planned to go back," she says. "But there was still so much trouble after 1999. Then came the problem of Angie. We fought a lot for justice, peace and independence, for the people of East Timor; now there is no justice. Nothing makes me want to go back. Dili seems far, far away. It's lost all the hope it had, it's so disappointing."

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