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Terrorism & Security

East Timor rebel leader surrenders

Gastao Salsinha's surrender may signal a weakening of the rebellion that has engulfed the former Indonesian island since its independence in 2002.

By / April 29, 2008

A rebel leader accused of involvement in the near-fatal shooting of East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta in February has surrendered to authorities. Government officials said the surrender of Gastao Salsinha and 11 of his armed followers brings to a close to a destabilizing rebellion that began in 2006 with the firing of 600 disgruntled soldiers.

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Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Gutteres, who presided over Tuesday's surrender, said Mr. Salsinha and other rebels would now be brought to justice, the BBC reports. He said the rebellion was officially over, and described it as "a historic moment for the people of East Timor."

East Timor, which lies on an island shared with Indonesia, has struggled to stand on its own feet since independence in 2002 after three years of UN tutelage. The 2006 military purge sparked months of unrest that forced many Timorese to flee their homes. A bold attack in February on Mr. Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unhurt in a separate road ambush, roiled the nation and prompted Australia to beef up its peacekeeping forces in Timor, reported The Christian Science Monitor.

But the death of another rebel leader during the attacks and public outrage over the violence appeared to weaken the rebellion, and hundreds of former soldiers have since disarmed and turned themselves over to authorities, reported the BBC.

The Associated Press says that Ramos-Horta, who recently returned to Timor after two months of hospital treatment and recovery in Australia, held an emotional meeting Tuesday with the rebels at the presidential palace. Ramos-Horta, a former journalist turned roving diplomat, spent more than two decades campaigning against Indonesia's brutal occupation of his country. Last year, he was elected president, after previously serving as the country's prime minister.

Marcelo Caetano, the rebel [who] President Jose Ramos-Horta said shot him, cried and kissed the president's hand as the television cameras rolled outside the palace.
"I am happy our sons returned to Dili and surrendered their weapons," he told reporters, weeping. "The truth will be established by the court."
In an interview with the military, commander Salsinha apologized to the people of East Timor, "who suffered during the crisis and many of whom are still living in refugee camps.
"My men surrendered for the people of this country.... They are ready to face justice," he said.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. says that Salsinha had been negotiating the terms of his surrender since late last week and was escorted by UN and Timorese police to the capital Dili. The UN has said it expects Salsinha and his followers to be charged over the Feb. 11 attacks. Four other suspects have separately been arrested in Indonesia and handed over to Timorese authorities.


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