also East Timor rebels, suspected in ambush on PM, surrender
By Tito Belo Tue Apr 29, 3:38 AM ET
DILI (Reuters) – The leader of a group of East Timor rebels accused of trying to assassinate President Jose Ramos-Horta surrendered on Tuesday, raising hopes that the troubled young nation can find some rare stability.
Gastao Salsinha and 12 of his men surrendered to Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres in a closed-door meeting at the government palace in the capital Dili, witnessed by other officials including Ramos-Horta.
“As an individual I have no hatred against the one who shot me, I forgive him, but as the head of state he has to face court to explain it,” added Ramos-Horta, who has previously singled out one of the fugitive rebels as being his shooter.
The 58-year-old Nobel laureate, who was critically wounded during the February attacks on his Dili home, recently returned to Dili after recuperating for two months in Australia.
“The people want to know who gave them the support of uniforms, weapons and bullets,” added Ramos-Horta, who upset Jakarta by suggesting that elements from neighboring Indonesia were behind the plot.
During the surrender, the rebels handed over guns and other military equipment, including camouflage uniforms and grenades.
Salsinha, who took command of the rebels after their leader, Alfredo Reinado, was killed in the February 11 attack, had been negotiating with authorities from a house in Ermera district, 75 km (47 miles) west of the capital.
Salsinha told reporters that he and his men had “surrendered to justice not to the government.”
East Timor had issued arrest warrants for Salsinha, a former army lieutenant, and 22 others over the attacks, which also targeted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unhurt.
An army major said that two rebels remained in hiding.
Deputy prime minister Guterres described the surrender as a “great day for the East Timor people.”
The country’s tiny army imploded along regional lines in 2006, when about 600 soldiers were sacked, triggering violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes.
East Timor called in foreign troops to help restore order, but a hard-core of the fugitive troops frequently embarrassed the security forces by melting away even when apparently surrounded.
Gusmao, who is on a visit to Jakarta, praised the cooperation of state institutions, and the work of the army and police in bringing about the surrender.
“We just want to avoid more violence,” he said.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed the country later that year, maintaining a huge and sometimes harsh military presence and fighting rebels for more than two decades.
East Timor, which is one of the world’s poorest nations but has rich oil and gas reserves, became fully independent in May 2002 after a U.N. transitional administration.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that East Timor should stop hinting that Indonesia was involved in the attacks as this could hurt relations between the two countries.
East Timor’s parliament agreed last week to lift a state of emergency imposed following the attack on Ramos-Horta, although the state of alert was extended for another month in Ermera.
Reflecting improvements in security, Australia will withdraw 200 troops from East Timor, sent following the February assassination attempt, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.
More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the country to help local security forces maintain stability.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Pathoni in Jakarta, Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Alex Richardson)
East Timor rebels, suspected in ambush on PM, surrender
Tue Apr 29, 12:22 AM ET
DILI, East Timor – A military official says rebels believed to have been involved in an attack on East Timor’s prime minister have surrendered to authorities.
They handed in weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unharmed from an ambush of his motorcade on Feb. 11 by mutinous soldiers. An attack the same day on President Jose Ramos-Horta nearly killed him.
Lt. Fernando Gausege says rebel commander Gastau Salsinha and 12 of his men, believed to have carried out the ambush on the premier, turned themselves in Tuesday with 11 firearms.
Ramos-Horta, who returned to the country last week after recovering from several gunshot wounds in an Australian hospital, was to meet the rebels.