East Timor prosecutor blames president over trial delay

Updated Fri Oct 10, 2008 1:10pm AEST

East Timor’s President and chief prosecutor are at odds over the prosecution of senior military figures for their role in illegally arming civilians during the 2006 crisis. Last week, the prosecutor general said it was the president’s fault he’d not yet been able launch the action, while Jose Ramos Horta says there are other priorities.

Presenter:Stephanie March

Speakers: Longuinhos Monteiro, East Timor’s Prosecutor General; Jose Ramos Horta, President; Mari Alkatiri, former Prime Minister; Luis Oliveira, Judicial System Monitoring Program

MARCH: A United Nations commission of inquiry into the 2006 crisis recommended Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak- known in East Timor as TMR – be prosecuted for illegal weapons transfer, along with former defence minister Roque Rodrigues.

As members of the superior defence council the pair enjoy an immunity that the President has the power to lift.

Prosecutor General Longinous Montiero asked the President four months ago to waive the immunity, but has not yet received a response.

He says he is frustrated his office gets blamed for failing to launch an investigation into Brigadier Ruak’s actions.

MONTIERO: Everybody is demanding ‘the office of the PG do nothing, all cases are pending, nothing is updated when we asking no answer’ – so what can we do�..(cut off by JOURNALIST)

JOURNALIST: So you hope to try TMR? You hope to bring him to court?

MONTIERO: Well I don’t want to say that we will try or not but at least we need to hear, I cannot accuse anyone before we hear.

MARCH: Last week the Prosecutor General caused a stir in Dili when he sent summons to three other high-ranking military officers.

Colonel Lere Anan Timor, Major Mau Buti and Colonel Falur Rate Laek are now considered formal suspects in the investigation into the military’s role in arming civilians during the 2006 crisis.

Brigadier Ruak says he will cooperate with investigators once his immunity is lifted,

but President Jose Ramos Horta, says the prosecutor general should focus on other things.

HORTA: Because in the mean time there are other priorities facing him, facing the nation, that the nation is very concerned about and that is the assassination attempt on the President and the Prime Minister. These were not attempts of assassination of individuals but of the President and the Prime Minister, these must have absolute priority.

MARCH: In February this year the President and Prime Minister were attacked by a gang of former soldiers who had defected from the military during the political crisis in 2006.

He has said previously that he doesn’t care if the investigation into the February attacks takes up to two years.

HORTA: And once that is concluded we can move on, backtrack to others like 2006 and others – there are many cases – 2000, 4000 case on his desk. The priorities are yes, February 11 2008 and then we go back to 2006.

MARCH: But Luis Oliveira, acting deputy director of watchdog NGO the Judicial System Monitoring Program says failing to lift the immunity will reinforce East Timor’s strong culture of impunity and send the wrong message to the people.

OLIVEIRA: (translation) It sends political message, it sends the message to the East Timor society is that justice is politicised because the State says it is not urgent. But for our position justice is urgent and must be open to all of people so all people can feel justice, justice must be done for all of people not for one side only.

MARCH: He says the president is not correct when he says the attempted assassination case is more important than those from two years ago when tensions between the police and military erupted into violence, killing 37 people.

OLIVEIRA: (translation) The 11 February case is related to the 2006 cases, that why the prosecutor general is trying to use authority to deal with these cases from 2006 as well.

MARCH: Brigadier Ruak, was the leader of the Falantil armed resistance when East Timor became independent in 1999 and still has many supporters both in and outside the military.

Senior Fretilin opposition party members – including former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri – have said they are prepared to act as lawyers on his behalf.

But some observers fear even an investigation, may lead to trouble.

Mari Alkatiri:

ALKATIRI: the problem is not with those people who are being called now to make their own testimony to justice system the problem is their supporters, the army as a whole. We have to manage this very carefully.

MARCH: Luis Oliveira from Judicial System Monitoring Program says it is possible the President is preventing Brigadier Ruak from being investigated to avoid instability.

OLIVEIRA: (translation) There could be a political reason behind this. Because if they open the case it could have a negative impact on the current situation. So our president doesn’t prioritise the case – maybe he has his own reasons but from my point of view for the social aspect of the justice system, there should not be any exception for anyone to face justice.

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