EAST TIMOR: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Alkatiri's right-hand man tried in East Timor
, February 3, 2007
The outcome of the trial of East Timor's Interior Minister is far from a foregone conclusion, writes Peter Westmore.Rogerio Lobato, formerly Interior Minister of East Timor, has been tried in Dili on charges relating to the supply of guns and ammunition to a death squad in 2006.
The death squad was established by East Timor's former Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, with the intention of killing political opponents of the ruling Marxist Fretilin party.
Lobato's actions precipitated a wave of violence which led to tens of thousands of Dil residents being driven from their homes.
Although it has not been widely reported in Australia, over 10,000 people are still living in tents supplied by the UN and the U.S. Agency for International Development. One woman to whom I spoke said that she had no money to rebuild her home, which was burnt down in the violence last year, and even if she had money, it would still be unsafe to return to the area.
The refugees are located next to the Dili airport, in a park in the middle of Dili, and at various church facilities, including the cathedral grounds and at the Don Bosco School at Comoro.
Nicolaou Lobato was hand-picked as a minister by Mari Alkatiri.
In evidence given in court, witnesses said that Alkatiri and Lobato had transferred semi-automatic rifles and ammunition to a group of former Fretilin guerillas, to assassinate political rivals.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment.
The leader of the group of assassins, a man named Railos, gave evidence that his men had instructions to eliminate government opponents and that the word eliminate meant to kill.
A separate United Nations inquiry has established that armed civilians took part in an attack in which up to nine soldiers were shot dead.
Subsequently, the army split, with one section calling for the resignation of Alkatiri. Additionally, the police force, then under Lobato's control, fought against the army.
After the intervention of UN forces, the police force was disarmed; but a number of police were then gunned down in cold blood by members of East Timor's army. No one has yet been charged with these murders.
Lobato was forced to resign as minister in June and was placed under house arrest.
In court, his lawyer maintained the decision to give civilian support to police was legal under East Timor's Internal Security Act.
Fretilin brought about 20 truckloads of people into Dili to demonstrate against Lobato's trial. They demanded that the trial be replaced by a "dialogue".Tricked
It later emerged that many had been tricked into coming to Dili, believing that they were attending a Christmas-New Year celebration. Some are believed to have been paid.
It is unlikely that the large number of people who remain refugees in their own land would consider a "dialogue" a suitable penalty for a person who has ruined their homes and livelihoods.
The court's decision will be subject to close scrutiny both inside East Timor and outside, because the judges were appointed by the Alkatiri Government, and there is a perception that this will influence the outcome of the trial.- Peter Westmore.