Subject: Government Thanks Church For Rebel Surrender

ET04921.1495 May 1, 2008 61 EM-lines (694 words)

EAST TIMOR Government Thanks Church For Rebel Surrender

DILI (UCAN) -- The government of Timor Leste, or East Timor, has thanked the Church after a Catholic priest negotiated the surrender of rebels who allegedly attacked President Jose Ramos-Horta.

The government offered its thanks to Father Adrianus Ola, who facilitated the surrender of former army lieutenant Gastao Salsinha and 11 followers on April 29. Father Ola is parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ermera district, 75 kilometers southeast of Dili, where the rebels were hiding.

Salsinha and his men are believed to have carried out separate early morning ambushes on Feb. 11 against Horta and Prime Minister Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao. While Gusmao was not hurt in the attack on his motorcade, Horta was seriously wounded and had to be flown to Darwin, Australia, for surgery. He returned to East Timor on April 17.

Salsinha was said to be the right-hand man of Alfredo Reinado, the rebel leader and former police major who was killed leading the attack on Horta. The motives for the attacks remain unclear.

Father Ola, 40, said it took four days of negotiations with the rebels to get them to turn themselves in. "I kept telling them, 'You have to surrender and solve your problems,'" he told reporters in Dili. "Their problems can only be solved among the Timorese."

The priest said Timor Leste's people had been badly affected by these former soldiers and their rift with the government, and it was time to bring this to an end.

Violence wracked Dili and other parts of the country over a split in the military in 2006 along regional lines, pitting "easterners" against "westerners." More than 100,000 capital-area residents fled their homes and tens of thousands still remain in refugee camps, afraid to return home.

"I'm so proud that finally the rebels want to collaborate with the state and face justice, and I hope this will be the end of everything," Father Ola told reporters.

In a meeting at the presidential palace after the surrender, Ramos-Horta, who nearly died in the attack at his residence, personally forgave the rebels. "As a human, as a Christian, I pardon you, but as president, as a citizen, you should be taken to court to face justice," he told the men. "You have to explain to the people: Who sent you, who supported you, who gave you the money, the weapons and uniforms, and who made the plan?"

Marcelo Caetano, the rebel whom the president said had shot him, cried and kissed the president's hand.

"I am happy our sons returned to Dili and surrendered their weapons," Caetano told reporters, weeping. "The truth will be established by the court."

In an interview with the military, Salsinha reportedly apologized to the people of East Timor "who suffered during the crisis and many of whom are still living in refugee camps." He said he and his men were ready to face justice.

The president thanked the Church and the people of Ermera. "I would like to thank the Church, especially the Ermera parish priest who has made an effort with his people to bring stability to this country."

The head of the Justice and Peace Commission of Dili diocese, Father Cyrus Banque, told UCA News on Apr. 29 that the surrender of the rebels is very important to the people, because the government can end military operations against them and people can return to their normal activities.

"This is a crucial moment of peace for this country. Now the situation will normalize and the refugees will no longer be afraid to go home," the Filipino Claretian missioner said.

As news of the surrender spread, refugees around Dili expressed optimism. Julio Orani, 29, who lives with his wife and five children in the Cional refugee camp, told UCA News this was a good omen for peace. "I will see the progress over the next two or three weeks, and if nothing happens then I will go home," he said on April 29.

Timor Leste, a former Portuguese colony that Indonesia occupied 1975-99, has struggled with political turmoil and violence since it formally emerged as an independent nation in 2002. Foreign troops currently help maintain security.


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