Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ramos Horta calls for death squad claims probe

Ramos Horta calls for death squad claims probe
East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, has called for an urgent investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri recruited an armed squad to eliminate his political opponents.

A group of 30 men - former Falantil independence fighters - have told the ABC's Four Corners program they were recruited on behalf of the Prime Minister last month and given weapons to kill those against him.

They say they were given a hit list which included many of the rebel soldiers who were sacked earlier this year, and even hostile members of Dr Alkatiri's own party, Fretilin.

Dr Ramos Horta, who is also the country's newly appointed Defence Minister, has told Lateline he first heard the claims about a week ago, but he finds them incredible.

"I find it very hard to believe that our own Prime Minister would armour civilians, individuals, and particularly give orders to assassinate others, no matter who they are," he said.

"The Prime Minister is a lawyer, a well-tested lawyer, and he obviously knows that this kind of action is absolutely illegal, not to say unethical and immoral and absolutely counter-productive and dangerous."

Dr Alkatiri has flatly denied the allegations.

Dr Ramos Horta says there has to be an impartial, independent investigation, as a matter of urgency.

"The allegations are allegations until they are proven to be correct through an investigation, but they are very serious matters," he said.

Dr Ramos Horta says this investigation should be comprised of mainly East Timorese officials, with the help of international experts, "so we don't take away from the Timorese every right to carry out our own investigation".

He says the investigation must be initiated by the President, Xanana Gusmao.

He says he cannot believe that a democratic political party would have a "clandestinely illegal armed wing".

"If these were to be true, it is really an absolute disgrace for us that this happened amidst our illusion and dreams of setting up a peaceful, tolerant, democratic society, democratic country."

GNR deployment

A spokesman for Dr Alkatiri says Portuguese paramilitary police will take over security duties in East Timor's flashpoint district of Comoro.

"Portuguese police will be in charge of one area, called Comoro," Miguel Sarmento told AFP.

While more than 2,000 foreign peacekeepers, mostly Australian, are already deployed to quell unrest that left 21 dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, the Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR) is regarded locally as having a particulary no-nonsense reputation.

GNR troopers served in East Timor during a period of UN stewardship before independence in 2002.

A statement from Dr Ramos Horta did not name the district where the GNR will operate.

Australian Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Squire, spokesman for the Joint Task Force of peacekeepers, could not confirm that the GNR would operate in Comoro, a district near the Dili airport which has been the scene of frequent gang-linked arson attacks on homes and cars. A nearby market has also been burned.

"We are liaising with the Portuguese. We are conducting planning with the Portuguese," Lt Col Squire said.


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