Monday June 4, 2007
Manhunt launched after political slaying in East Timor
DILI, East Timor (AP): East Timor independence hero Xanana Gusmao accused those behind the slaying of one his campaign workers of wanting to disrupt upcoming elections seen as key to restoring stability in Asia's newest nation.
Authorities said a group of off-duty police officers were suspected in Sunday's slaying, indicating that bitter divisions in the country's security forces and ruling elite that exploded into violence and political turmoil last year remain a threat.
"This is a very sad day for me and for East Timor's democracy,'' Gusmao, who will become prime minister if his party wins the June 30 polls, said in a statement Monday.
He said the killers did not want "the election process to take place in peace.''
"I again call on all people of our young nation to give up violence. With violence we only hurt ourselves, our country, and those that we love,'' he said.
Afonso Kudalai was shot three times at close range at a campaign rally for Gusmao's newly formed party on Sunday in Viqueque district, 183 kilometers (113 miles) from the capital, Dili.
Police inspector Jose Carvalho said his officers and those from the United Nations were searching for the killer or killers, whom he said were believed to be off-duty police officers.
He declined to speculate on a motive for the killing.
It was not immediately clear if the shooting was related to an attack Sunday on Gusmao's motorcade, also in Viqueque, when several vehicles were pelted with stones. Gusmao was unhurt.
East Timor, which broke from Indonesian rule in a U.N.-sponsored 1999 ballot, had been heralded as a success in nation-building until a rift in the police and armed forces escalated into gunbattles, looting, arson and gang warfare just over a year ago. The violence killed 37 people and drove 155,000 from their homes.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta was elected president on May 9, raising hopes of stability, although more than 3,000 international police officers and soldiers remain stationed in the country to maintain peace and order.
Ramos-Horta took over from Gusmao, who was imprisoned during Indonesia's occupation for leading the resistance to Jakarta's rule.
Political commentators have expressed fear that efforts by Gusmao and Ramos-Horta to sideline Fretilin -- which was the traditional party of resistance to Indonesian rule and currently holds a majority of seats in the legislature -- could lead to more bloodshed.
In a statement, Fretilin "demanded that a proper independent investigation be carried out in relation to the death'' of the campaign worker, alleging that he had been armed.
On Thursday, a hand grenade killed a man and wounded three others, while supporters of rival candidates clashed with machetes and rocks elsewhere in the country, wounding a dozen people.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, is the youngest and poorest country in Asia, with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent. About two-thirds of children under age 5 are malnourished