|Subject: AP: Former East Timor minister
goes on trial
AP Former East Timor minister goes on trial 9th January 2007, 17:59 WST
East Timor's former interior minister went on trial on Tuesday on charges of gunrunning and treason for allegedly setting up political hit squads during unrest in the tiny nation last year.
Proceedings against Rogerio Lobato and three co-defendants began two months late at a high-security courthouse in the capital, Dili, amid ongoing clashes between rival gangs that have killed more than a dozen in recent weeks.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs warned in a statement that protests could turn violent and foreign peacekeepers were put on full alert.
Australian citizens were advised not to travel to East Timor, a former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia until 1999.
Outside court, about 3,000 of Lobato's supporters arrived from across the nation, unfurling a large banner saying: "Don't ever try to punish Lobato. Otherwise there is no hope for East Timor."
About 35 witnesses from East Timor, Australia, the United States, Portugal and Macau, are expected to testify.
The four could face a maximum 47-year prison sentence if convicted.
Violence in April and May was triggered by the dismissal of a third of the army by then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, one of Lobato's close political allies.
Clashes between rival security force factions in Dili later spilled into gang warfare, looting and arson attacks.
Lobato has claimed he was acting on the orders of Alkatiri, who resigned in June after 37 people had died and 155,000 were driven from their homes.
In recent weeks, incidents have spread to cities across East Timor and UN police forces have been posted in all of the country's 13 districts, a UN official has said. The number of foreign police will be increased ahead of May elections.
Radio New Zealand
Security forces on alert in Dili as trial starts
Posted at 10:10pm on 09 Jan 2007
Security forces in East Timor's capital, Dili, are on alert as the trial gets underway for a former minister accused of arming a political hit squad, as the nation descended into violence last year.
Prosecutors are pursuing former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato on a range of charges including conspiracy and arms offences.
Mr Lobato has previously claimed he was acting on the orders of then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who resigned in June last year after street battles in Dili killed dozens of people.
Mr Alkatiri has been questioned several times over allegations that he authorised the arming of a hit squad to eliminate his rivals.
Australians are being urged to reconsider travel plans to East Timor over fears Mr Lobato's trial will spark violent demonstrations.
Mr Lobato faces several charges that carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The ABC reports he is accused of authorising the transfer of semi-automatic rifles to a group of civilians who were under the command of a man named Railos, who has alleged that his men had instructions to "eliminate" government opponents and that the word "eliminate" meant to kill.
The ABC reports a separate United Nations inquiry has established the armed civilians took part in an attack in which up to nine soldiers were shot dead.
Mr Lobato was forced to resign as minister in June and was placed under house arrest. He has maintained the decision to give civilian support to police was legal under East Timor's Internal Security Act.
The trial is expected to run for several days.
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