UN armored vehicles patrol East Timor’s capital Dili under a state of emergency following an attack that critically wounded the President José Ramos-Horta Feb. 11. Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize (with Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo), was shot in the chest and stomach on the road in front of his house in an apparent coup attempt. His guards returned fire, killing wanted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. Ramos-Horta was airlifted to an Australian hospital where surgeons said he was “extremely lucky to be alive” after they operated for three hours to remove bullet fragments and repair chest wounds. Gunmen also attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s motorcade an hour later, but he escaped unhurt.
Acting president Vicente Gutterres announced the emergency declaration on national television. The order bans demonstrations, gives police extended powers and calls for a curfew for at least 48 hours. Australia’s troop presence in East Timor climbed to more than 1,000 Feb. 12, with the arrival of some 300 soliders and police, with a Navy warship moored off the coast in sight of the capital’s harbor.
Reinado was among 600 mutinous soldiers dismissed by the government in 2006—a move that triggered widespread violence that forced 155,000 from their homes and the prompted the resignation of the country’s first post-independence prime minister (Mari Alkatiri).
Reinado was arrested but escaped from prison months later. John Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) said the assassination attempts “occurred, in part because the rule of law remains weak. Maj. Reinado, who was indicted for murder for his actions in 2006, should have been brought to justice long before this attack.” (AP, Feb. 12)
See our last post on East Timor.
ETAN on attacks in Timor-Leste
From the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), Feb. 11:
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) condemns Monday’s violent attacks on the President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. We wish President Ramos-Horta a speedy and full recovery from his wounds and a quick return to the duties he was elected to carry out. We deeply regret the loss of life. The people of Timor-Leste have experienced far too much violence throughout their history. The pursuit of political goals through violence is unacceptable and must be rejected. We urge that all reactions to these events be peaceful.
We regret that Major Alfredo Reinado and his followers were allowed to remain free for so long. It is puzzling to us that some in Timor-Leste view him as a heroic figure. His use of force during the crisis in May 2006 and subsequent threats to use force should have been condemned and rejected by all. These threats were carried out Monday morning with tragic consequences.
Justice and accountability are lacking for far too many recent and past crimes in East Timor. Yesterday’s events occurred, in part, because the rule of law remains weak. Major Reinado, who was indicted for murder for his actions in 2006, should have been brought to justice long before this attack. Too many in today’s Timor-Leste operate with a sense of impunity, believing that they will not be held accountable for violent crimes which destabilize and further traumatize the country’s population. This sense of impunity is only reinforced by the failure of the UN, U.S., Indonesia, Timor Leste and the rest of the international community to achieve accountability for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor between 1975 and 1999.
See ETAN’s statement on the death of General Suharto.