14 July 2009 DILI, East Timor (AP) — Rebel soldiers accused of trying to assassinate the president and prime minister of East Timor went on trial Monday.
The 28 men ambushed President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in "simultaneous attacks" last year, chief prosecutor Felismino Cardoso said in his opening remarks.
Ramos-Horta barely survived after being shot in the stomach outside his home on Feb. 11, 2008. He was flown to Australia for emergency treatment, while Gusmao escaped an attack on his motorcade unharmed.
The leaders, who have not responded to requests to provide statements to the court, may be called to testify during this week's trial.
It was unclear what the maximum punishment could be for attempted homicide against the head of state in East Timor. The country also has a history of pardoning criminals, rather than prosecuting them and potentially causing more violence.
In a dramatic television appearance just months after the attack, Ramos-Horta said he had forgiven the man who shot him after he turned himself in. He personally pardoned a militia leader who confessed to killing people in 1999 when Indonesian-backed gangs killed 1,500 people.
East Timor, Asia's youngest nation with less than 1 million people, has struggled to find stability since violently breaking from Indonesia a decade ago. It faces huge challenges including towering unemployment, poverty and decaying infrastructure.
Fighting between rival security forces took the nation to the brink of civil war in 2006 before Gusmao and Ramos-Horta, a Nobel laureate, were voted into office in relatively peaceful 2007 elections.
The United Nations and Australia are in the process of scaling back a peace keeping mission established to end the violence.