By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
DILI, East Timor — Twelve rebels suspected of masterminding the assassination attempts on East Timor’s President and Prime Minister in February, surrendered today after hiding in the jungle for more than two months. President Jose Ramos-Horta has declared the peaceful resolution a turning point in East Timor’s violent history.
The surrender comes after rebels shot and seriously wounded the President on the morning of February 11th. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted in a separate attack, but escaped unharmed. The President returned to his duties last week after a two month recovery in Darwin, Australia.
This morning, the twelve, including rebel leader, Gastau Salsinha, and the President’s named shooter, Marcelo Caetano, met with President Horta in an emotional ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Cameras captured a tearful Caetano kiss the President’s hand and ask for forgiveness. In an interview, Salsinha apologized for causing the East Timor people grief. “My men surrendered for the people of this country. … They are ready to face justice,” Salsinha said.
The President has expressed forgiveness, but remains committed to seeing the ends of justice met. “I am happy our sons returned to Dili and surrendered their weapons,” President Horta said. He added, “The truth will be established by the court.”
Prime Minister Gusmao praised the Timorese police and military for their efforts in conducting the two month long manhunt in cooperation with other state institutions. This week Australia announced it will withdraw 200 troops from East Timor, in part due to the improvement in security. Although, since the small country gained its independence in 2002, roughly 2,500 foreign troops have remained to help maintain stability.
In 2006, the twelve rebels were a part of some 600 military members who were fired for protesting alleged discrimination. In the bitter dispute, the army divided into factions, causing 37 deaths and forcing 150,000 from their homes.
President Horta believes today marks an end to the violence that has plagued East Timor since its hard won independence.
For more information, please see:
Associated Press — 12 East Timor rebels suspected in attacks surrender — 29 April 2008
BBC News — Surrender ends troops’ rebellion — 29 April 2008
Christian Science Monitor — East Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008
Reuters, UK — East Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008
The Sydney Morning Herald — East Timor rebels surrender — 29 April 2008
TVNZ — E Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008