15 July 2009

Accused Angelita Pires goes barefoot to deny murder conspiracy

The Australian Paul Toohey 14 July 2009 - ANGELITA Pires wore traditional Timorese dress and no shoes to the first day of her trial in the Dili District Court yesterday as a show of defiance.

Ms Pires, along with 23 former rebels and four of their associates, were indicted on numerous counts of conspiracy to, and attempting to, kill East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on February 11 last year.

"I wore this to say, 'Let's go forward and have this out'," Ms Pires told The Australian.

Going barefoot is considered to be a challenge to fight in some Timorese cultures.

The first three rows of the public gallery were transformed into a makeshift dock to hold the 28 accused, most of them rebels wearing bright-red T-shirts with "prisioneiros" emblazoned across the back.

The charges are so numerous that the indictment took more than an hour to recite.

The three judges heard an argument from prosecutor Felismino Cardoso that Ms Pires was not entitled to use her two foreign lawyers, Darwin barrister Jon Tippett QC, and Brazilian lawyer Zeni Arndt, because they had no legal standing in the country.

Dr Arndt told the judges she had previously worked with Ms Pires when she was a public defender in Dili, and was intimate with the case and regarded Ms Pires "like a daughter".

Ms Pires was given a chance to explain why she should use foreign lawyers. She said that after she was arrested early last year, Dr Arndt was the only person who had helped her.

She said Mr Tippett had strong forensic knowledge that she needed to prove her innocence. Presiding judge Constancio Basmeri Barros said the lawyers could stay.

In the early hours of February 11 last year, the rebels came down to Dili and broke into two groups. One, led by Alfredo Reinado, allegedly went to the President's compound where Reinado was shot dead and the President badly wounded by one of the rebels, allegedly Marcelo Caetano.

The other group, led by Reinado's second-in-command, Gastao Salsinha, positioned themselves outside the Prime Minister's house and ambushed his motorcade.

"I want to say on February 11 I just fulfilled an order of Major Alfredo Reinado," Mr Salsinha told the court. "Alfredo at that time had contact with the President. They came to Dili to have a meeting with the President."

Mr Ramos Horta has strongly denied he had any meeting set for that morning. The army guard who was at the gate when the rebels arrived at 6.15am, Domingos Pereira, said he was punched in the head and had his automatic weapon taken from him.

Mr Pereira had come on shift at 6am while the President was taking his morning walk. He said no one had told him about any meeting. The soldier said Reinado and an offsider, Leopoldino, who was also shot dead, had marched straight inside the compound searching for the President.

Ms Pires is accused of being an "indirect author" of events, having encouraged Reinado, with whom she was having a relationship, to go to Dili to attack the President and Prime Minister. She denies it.

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