Doubt Over Autopsy On East Timor’s Rebels

The Australian

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Autopsy doubt on rebels

Paul Toohey

QUESTIONS have been raised as to whether rebel leader Alfredo Reinado
was lured down from the mountains of East Timor to be executed after
it emerged he was shot dead at almost point-blank range inside the
home of President Jose Ramos Horta.

The Australian has obtained the autopsy reports for Reinado and
fellow rebel Leopoldino Exposto, who died at Reinado’s side.

Exposto was shot once in the direct centre of the back of his head at
“close range”, typical of an execution-style killing. The skin
around Reinado’s four entry wounds — to the eye, the neck, the chest
and the hand — all featured significant burning and blackening.

David Ranson, of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, said
it was well-established across the forensic world that gunshot wounds
that featured burning and blackening came from rifles discharged at
point-blank or “near-contact” range: less than 30cm.

“Blackening is a critical issue to gunshot wounds,” Professor
Ranson said. “The ballistic textbooks are very clear on this.
Burning and blackening is a feature of very close-range shots,
probably from less than a foot away. If you see burning and soot-type
burning, it indicates that the barrel of the gun was very close to
the skin’s surface.”

Burning comes from close-range muzzle flash. The blackening, or
tattooing, comes from gunpowder.

The public version to date is that Reinado, a 42-year-old
Australian-trained major who had led a year-long mutiny, and Exposto
were caught unaware as they entered the presidential compound on
February 11 and were shot by a guard from a distance of at least 10
to 15 metres away.

Mr Ramos Horta suffered gunshot wounds when he was caught in gunfire
as he returned to the compound from his morning walk, and one of his
guards was killed. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped a separate
attack on his convoy as it took him from his home to his office.

But the official version of events has been clouded by the findings
of forensic pathologist Muhammad Nurul Islam, who conducted the
autopsies. He writes that Exposto and Reinado were killed “at close
range” with a high-velocity rifle.

Dr Nurul notes that all Reinado’s wounds featured
“blackening/burning” especially so in his left eye, where the
discolouration covers an unusually sizeable 10cm x 9cm area, which
could indicate a point-blank shot.

Despite some reports that Reinado was either drunk or on drugs, Dr
Nurul said there were no toxicological testing facilities at the Dili
morgue and that question would never be answered.

Mr Ramos Horta has maintained Reinado was an uninvited guest that day
and this was an act of aggression.

What is certain is that the events inside the villa that morning are
not as clear as previously presented, and may have involved Reinado
and Exposto either walking into a trap or being held at close
quarters before being shot.

One of Reinado’s wounds was to his left hand, suggesting he may have
raised it in a defensive gesture knowing he was about to be shot.

The close-range shooting opinion is strongly reinforced by the
burning and blackening that appeared on Reinado’s chest wound,
despite the fact he was shot through a thick ammunition vest.

Reinado and Exposto were shot with a high-powered AR-15
semi-automatic Armalite weapon, or weapons, as issued to the
presidential guard.

Accounts from inside Dili jail from Reinado’s rebels, obtained by The
Australian, have it that Reinado went to Dili for an early-morning
appointment with the President. Reinado’s men maintain they had no
plan to attack the President but their interviews are riddled with
inconsistencies.

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Joyo Indonesia News Service

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