Subject: Timor president calls for a return to peace

The Age

Timor president calls for a return to peace

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin

March 9, 2008

NOBEL laureate Jose Ramos Horta has appealed for a return to peace in East Timor in his first public statement since he was shot and seriously wounded in the February 11 attacks in Dili.

"Our nation will not be constructed of violence but from peace," Mr Ramos Horta said from his bed in Darwin's Private Hospital.

Mr Ramos Horta, East Timor's popular president, made the comments as negotiations continued for rebels responsible for the attacks to surrender and face justice.

Hopes were dashed on Friday when rebel leader Gastao Salsinha failed to fulfil a promise to appear in a village in the country's mist-shrouded mountains.

But negotiators are confident that Salsinha, the commander of 600 soldiers who were sacked in 2006, is set to surrender, ending the threat of a long-term armed insurgency in the country.

Australia's elite SAS commandos, who flew into East Timor within hours of the attacks to hunt the perpetrators, have stood down while Timorese authorities negotiate with Salsinha.

But government sources in Dili have told The Sunday Age that if Salsinha misses another opportunity to surrender, an order will be issued for him to be hunted and, if necessary, killed.

After undergoing his sixth operation since being shot outside his home on Dili's outskirts, Mr Ramos Horta yesterday timed his first public statement to support International Women's Day.

"The incidents of February 11 will not deter me or anybody in Timor to build a Timor based on respect for life and the dignity of the human being," Mr Ramos Horta said.

Despite calls in East Timor for the Government in Dili to show no mercy to the rebels, Mr Ramos Horta ruled out use of the death penalty, life imprisonment and "all other forms of violence perpetuated by state on its citizens".

Before the attacks Mr Ramos Horta had promised to push for an amnesty for rebels led by former Australian-trained Timorese army officer Alfredo Reinado, who was shot dead during a gun battle at Mr Ramos Horta's house.

And only days after waking from an induced coma in Royal Darwin Hospital, Mr Ramos Horta told Timorese leaders to forgive Reinado and to take care of his family.

Mr Ramos Horta will tomorrow be reunited for the first time since the attacks with East Timor's prime minister Xanana Gusmao, who was to travel to Darwin with his Australian wife Kirsty Sword-Gusmao. Mr Gusmao was also a target of the attacks but escaped after fleeing into the jungle near his house on a mountain overlooking Dili.

Mr Gusmao is expected to brief Mr Ramos Horta on the progress of the investigation into the attacks, particularly the testimony of Amaro Da Costa, alias "Susar", one of the rebels who surrendered last week.

Da Costa has co-operated fully with investigators, telling them of the circumstances that led to Reinado taking armed men to Mr Ramos Horta's house soon after dawn on the day of the attacks. Da Costa was at the house during the gun battle.

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