Subject: Lateline: Ramos-Horta criticises Australian-led forces over rebel hunt

ABC Lateline

watch at www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2007/s2201222.htm 

Ramos-Horta criticises Australian-led forces over rebel hunt: EXCLUSIVE

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 27/03/2008

Reporter: Anne Barker

East Timor's President, Jose Ramos-Horta, has criticised Australian-led forces in Dili for failing to capture the rebels who shot him last month outside his home, saying the international soldiers should have blockaded the city immediately.

Transcript

TONY JONES: Well, East Timor's President has criticised Australian-led forces in Dili for failing to capture the rebels who shot him last month outside his home. Jose Ramos-Horta has told for the first time how he mistakenly walked into the gunfire and watched as an armed rebel lifted his rifle to shoot him. He says the international soldiers should have cordoned off the city immediately. Instead, they were paralysed for days as the rebel group escaped into the mountains. The President gave an exclusive interview to Lateline's Anne Barker.

ANNE BARKER: The surgery is over, the bullets are gone, but Jose Ramos-Horta still has a long journey ahead to recover from last month's ordeal.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, EAST TIMOR PRESIDENT: Well, I am physically, mentally very well. I still have pains related to the wounds to the surgery. But they are bearable.

ANNE BARKER: For the first time today, the President spoke in detail about the attack outside his home and how an unfortunate encounter with an ANZ bank employee on his morning walk sent him unwittingly into the gunfire.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: He told me that it seemed that forces were doing exercises near my house, and I was surprised, but because of that I was sure that there will be no problems. And so I walk towards the house.

ANNE BARKER: By the time he arrived home it was too late. Ramos-Horta was ambushed by armed rebels and even watched as one man raised his rifle and fired from less than 10 metres away.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: The gunman was there hiding near my gate and took aim at me. I'm just lucky as I saw him I turn around to run. That's why he didn't hit me on my chest on the left side, he hit me on the back on the right side.

ANNE BARKER: Did you think he was going to shoot? What went through your head?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes, I look at his eyes, not friendly and he was determined to fire. That's why I turn and run and I was hit.

ANNE BARKER: The President estimates he lay bleeding on the ground for half an hour, shouting for an ambulance. When it finally arrived he said there wasn't even a doctor, only a driver. By the time he was rushed to an Australian military hospital on the other side of town he'd lost four out of five litres of blood and said it was the blood of Australian soldiers that saved his life.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Luckily the Australian young men and women in the Defence Force in Timor gave me a lot of blood, so I was saved by the Australian medics, doctors, and nurses in Dili, as well by the blood donated by the Australian soldiers.

ANNE BARKER: But there's plenty of criticism, too, for the Australian-led forces. Jose Ramos-Horta says the international soldiers should have acted immediately to blockade the city and catch the rebels before they escaped.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I would say that Australian-led forces could have promptly surrounded the entire town, closing all the exits, using helicopter, sending immediately elements to my house to get the information on the ground. They would have captured them within hours, because for many hours after the attack on my house they were still in the hills around my house.

ANNE BARKER: Do you have any anger then towards the Australian troops?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: No, I don't, because I probably - the Australian troops only act upon request from United Nations.

ANNE BARKER: The President says he's left with no doubt that last month's shooting was an assassination attempt and not a kidnapping gone wrong, but he has no idea why the rebel forces led by Alfredo Reinado would want to kill him. And while he fears the prospect of more bloodshed, he's confident East Timor will pull through this latest ordeal.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: I think a lesson has been drawn from this, that we must really step back from violence. I can't guarantee there will be no further violence in the country, but I believe that the vast majority of the people are even more shocked today than ever before.

ANNE BARKER: The President is now convalescing in a private apartment in Darwin and hopes to arrive home next month.


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