05 March 2009

Ramos-Horta Welcomes Trial Of Alleged Assassins In Timor

Wednesday March 4th, 2009 / 12h10 DILI, East Timor (AFP)--East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta welcomed Wednesday a move to bring 28 suspects - including ex-soldiers and an Australian citizen - to trial over an attempt on his life last year.

The attorney-general announced the former soldiers and the Australian girlfriend of the rebel leader killed in the attack would appear in court in Dili facing charges ranging from attempted murder to conspiracy to murder.

Ramos-Horta nearly died after being shot several times outside his Dili house on Feb. 11 last year. However, he has said he sympathizes with his attackers and might pardon them in the interests of peace.

"I'm waiting now for the trial process. I still care about them but this case is now in the hands of the courts," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was attacked by the rebels an hour after Ramos-Horta, but escaped unharmed.

Former soldier Marcelo Caetano faces 20 years' jail for allegedly shooting Ramos-Horta. Angelita Pires, the girlfriend of gang leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in the attack, faces three years for alleged conspiracy.

Pires, a Timor-born Australian citizen, is on bail in Dili under orders to report regularly to police, while Caetano is being held on remand, a prosecutor said.

Prosecutors originally said only 25 of the accused were former military personnel. However, Wednesday they said everyone apart from Pires was an ex-soldier, including Gastao Salsinha who took over from rebel chief Reinado after he died leading the failed assassination attempt.

Salsinha surrendered in a formal ceremony attended by Ramos-Horta in April last year after lengthy private negotiations.

Opposition MP Arsenio Paixaoo Bano said the government should investigate its own dealings with the rebels in the lead-up to the attacks.

"This trial is good but we're eager to see the results. Will it be able to reveal the root of the problem or not?" he said.

"We hope there won't be any political interference in the investigation process."

The shooting raised fears of a return to chaos two years after fighting among police, soldiers and street gangs left at least 37 dead in the fledgling country.

But the death of the charismatic Reinado instead helped bring an end to the rebellion by 600 disgruntled soldiers he had led.

Ramos-Horta spent weeks recovering from his wounds in an Australian hospital before returning to East Timor.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for two decades of work representing the former Portuguese colony, which was later occupied by Indonesia and achieved independence in 2002.

Image added by ETLJB: President of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta.

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