Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin
March 28, 2008
EAST Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta has
accused a Timor-born Australian woman of
influencing rebel leader Alfredo Reinado in the
lead-up to last month’s assassination bid.
Angelita Pires, who was the rebel leader’s
“intimate associate and lover”, was among several
people who had “manipulated and influenced”
Reinado before the attack on February 11, Mr Ramos Horta said.
Speaking for the first time about the attempt on
his life, Mr Ramos Horta also told The Age
yesterday how he came within a split second of being killed.
“I could see from the face and eyes of one of
Reinado’s men that he was going to shoot me,” Mr
Ramos Horta said. “I turned around. It was at
that moment that he fired at least two shots,
hitting me on the right side of the back,” he said.
“If I had not turned at that moment he would have
shot me right in the chest … I would have died immediately.”
Mr Ramos Horta, who has been released from
hospital but remains in Darwin recovering from
his gunshot wounds, said he wanted answers to
many questions arising from the attempt on his
life, including why the Australian-led
International Stabilisation Force (ISF) did not
immediately hunt down the attackers.
He understood that there was no “hostile pursuit” of the rebels for two days.
Mr Ramos Horta said he also wanted to know why
United Nations police did not immediately come to his assistance.
He described how he lay bleeding for about 30
minutes near the front gate of his house on a
hill overlooking Dili harbour. “I felt no pain,” he said.
But he remembered thinking that if he died, East
Timor would explode into violence. “This was what partly helped me hang on.”
Mr Ramos Horta also told why he returned to the
house from a morning beach walk after hearing two
sets of gunshots. He said he initially looked at
two Timorese army soldiers who were with him and
said “Yes, the shots are from the house.”
But he said he then encountered the Dili manager
of the ANZ bank, who was riding a bike. “He said
in a casual and relaxed way that the ISF was
doing an exercise near my house,” Mr Ramos Horta
said. “That being the case, I felt relaxed and
decided to go home,” he said. “I also wanted to
check on the people at my house they included children.”
Mr Ramos Horta said that as he approached the
house he saw a bullet-riddled army vehicle. “I
didn’t see a single person, I didn’t see any ISF
soldier,” he said. “It looked very weird to me.
“I started to walk more cautiously, concerned. At
one point when we were approaching the gate one
of the soldiers who was escorting me said to be
careful, there’s somebody there … he meant some hostile person.
“When I looked I saw one of Alfredo’s men in full
uniform with a cloth on his head. He then aimed the gun at me.”
Mr Ramos Horta said when he was shot he fell to
the road and was unable to move for about 30
minutes until a battered old ambulance arrived.
He said he made repeated calls for help on his mobile phone.
He said an inquiry must investigate why UN police
failed to immediately encircle the area around
his house to prevent the attackers escaping.
“Why didn’t the ISF immediately launch actions to
capture those elements?” he said. “How did Mr
Alfredo Reinado happen to be totally undetected
in Dili when the ISF was supposed to be keeping an eye on his movements?
“There are quite a number of missing elements
that have to be clarified,” Mr Ramos Horta said.
“The people of my country are demanding answers
and I intend to get answers to all of these
questions.” Mr Ramos Horta said a commission of
inquiry should also examine who was behind both
Reinado and Gastao Salsinha, the former military
commander also suspected of involvement in the
February 11 attacks on Mr Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
Reinado, who had been wanted for murder over a
previous armed confrontation with police, was
killed in a shoot-out with Mr Ramos Horta’s bodyguards after the attack.
East Timorese soldiers and police are still
hunting Salsinha and 13 of his men in the island nation’s central mountains.
Mr Ramos Horta said the attacks came as a shock
to the people of East Timor, of whom he is proud for remaining calm.
He said Reinado had told him when they last met
in January that he was the only political leader
he trusted. He (Reinado) put a lot of trust in me,” he said.
But Mr Ramos Horta said Reinado was a very
unstable person who was never consistent with
what he said. “He does something else the next
day while under the influence of his intimate
associate and lover Ms Angie Pires and others who were behind him,” he said.
“While I managed to create a certain climate of
confidence among him and his men, there were some
elements behind him who would manipulate and
influence the situation,” Mr Ramos Horta said.
Ms Pires, 38, who grew up in Darwin, was detained
within days of the attacks and appeared before a judge.
She was released to house detention in Dili while
the investigation into the attacks continues.
Ms Pires is politically well-connected in Dili,
but has denied having any prior knowledge of the
attacks, or being involved in any plot to destabilise East Timor.
Mr Ramos Horta said he hoped to return to Dili within two or three weeks.