Subject: President faces his assailant - Rebellion over as Salsinha hands in weapons

The Australian

April 30, 2008 Wednesday

President faces his assailant - Rebellion over as Salsinha hands in weapons

Paul Toohey, Additional reporting: Stephen Fitzpatrick

EAST Timor President Jose Ramos Horta yesterday came face to face with and shook the hand of the rebel he believes shot him on February 11 at a formal surrender ceremony in Dili that marked the end of a two-year rebellion.

Deep anger showed on the face of the President, who said nothing to Marcelo Caetano, one of 12 rebels led in by Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha who officially surrendered yesterday after two years on the run.

Salsinha surrendered his weapon on Friday night in a house in Ermera, in the country's west, but used his influence over the following days to persuade other members of his band to come to Dili with him.

Speaking to the rebel group as a whole, Mr Ramos Horta said: ``I know the man who shot me. As a human and a Christian, I can forgive the man who shot me, but as the head of state and a citizen of Timor, this man must face justice.''

A witness said Mr Ramos Horta and Caetano had difficulty looking each other in the eye.

Mr Ramos Horta said he had spent two years trying to persuade the group, who deserted from the army in early 2006, to come in. ``I was going up in the hills talking to you and trying to get a result without bloodshed, but I had to pay the price myself,'' he said.

As Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was visiting Indonesia, Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres took over running of the ceremony at the Government Palace and declared East Timor at peace. ``The rebellion is over,'' he told The Australian. ``There was an official ceremony and officially the rebellion is ended. Right now they (the rebels) are leaving for the joint-command headquarters in order to give more statements.''

The group arrived in Dili at midday in a large convoy under the control of the F-FDTL (army) and the police, after attending mass in the hills.

The Australian-led International Stabilisation Force appeared to play no part in the event. Mr Guterres said Salsinha was ``very relaxed and I think he is prepared to face justice and that is a great thing for the country''.

``He just smiled when we shook hands but I think it is great to have all them in,'' Mr Guterres said.

Mr Gusmao, speaking in Jakarta after meetings on trade with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, hailed the surrender. ``I must praise our military and police for working together with the community to end that situation,'' he said. ``What can they (the rebels) do now? Absolutely nothing, because they are now in the hands of the judicial system.''

Mr Gusmao and Mr Yudhoyono discussed developing closer ties, which could include an Indonesian training program for East Timor's army.

Almost 600 soldiers from the west of the country abandoned army service in 2006, claiming they had been overlooked for promotion in a military dominated by easterner veterans who, as the westerners saw it, had been given control of the army in return for running the anti-Indonesian armed struggle between 1975 and 1999.

Salsinha and his petitioners, including Alfredo Reinado, who joined the rebels later, were always thought to have a strong natural justice case.

Over time, patience was lost as Reinado, who came to lead the group, made ever-shifting demands on the Government. On February 11, he stormed the President's compound and was shot. Mr Ramos Horta, returning from a morning walk, was shot twice by a man he has identified as Caetano, a member of Reinado's band. Another group led by Salsinha almost simultaneously staged an unsuccessful ambush on Mr Gusmao's motorcade as the Prime Minister headed to his offices.

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