Monday, June 04, 2007

Ramos Horta blames police for deaths

Ramos Horta blames police for deaths
June 4, 2007 - 7:10PM

East Timor's new president Jose Ramos Horta says the nation's police force continues to suffer from a lack of discipline, after officers allegedly shot dead two activists during rallies for a new party headed by former East Timor president Xanana Gusmao.

Saying the deaths had embarrassed the nation, Ramos Horta declared those responsible should receive "severe punishment".

The United Nations on Monday stepped up security in Viqueque, south east of Dili, amid rising tensions after the deaths of the two men, supporters of Gusmao's party, National Congress for Reconstruction of Timor-Leste (CNRT).

UN Police fired warning shots and tear gas in Viqueque market on Sunday afternoon after fighting broke out between CNRT supporters and opponents following a CNRT rally in the Fretilin-stronghold.

One man, Alfonso "Kuda Lay" Guterres, died after he was allegedly shot by an off-duty Timorese police officer.

Another CNRT supporter, 24, was shot dead and a 16-year-old youth injured shortly later, as a group of CNRT supporters, accompanied by the former president, attempted to return the dead man's body to Ossu.

"Initial reports indicate that PNTL (East Timor police) fired shots to control a crowd at a roadblock near Ossu," the acting head of the UN's mission in East Timor, Eric Tan said.

The Australian-led international stabilisation force has deployed a platoon to the region.

Ramos Horta, who was due to fly to Jakarta on Monday afternoon for his first official visit as president, said the police entrusted to safeguard the elections had failed in their duty.

"Several members of the PNTL have engaged in crime ... We see that indiscipline is still very strong within the PNTL," he said.

He warned: "There is no impunity in this country".

Reform of East Timor's security sector is considered key to the country's future, after clashes between elements of the police and defence forces sparked last year's crisis, resulting in 37 deaths.

Former president Gusmao, meanwhile, declared it a "sad day" for democracy in East Timor.

The CNRT party is likely to pose a major challenge to East Timor's ruling Fretilin party in the June 30 poll, and Gusmao will become Prime Minister if it wins.

On Monday he joined other leaders in calling for peace, warning that those responsible didn't want a peaceful election process.

"This is a very sad day for me and for East Timor's democracy," he said in a statement.

"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."

Meanwhile, the UN's Tan said police were still searching for the off-duty police officer believed responsible for Guterres' death and the motive was unknown.

"We are treating both shootings seriously," he said.

"Neither incident suggests an attempt on Mr Gusmaos life."

Tan said East Timor's leaders had met and urged political supporters to remain calm ahead of the June 30 poll.

Fretilin condemned the violence and called for a full investigation, saying the dead man had been armed.

"There also needs to be an inquiry to explain why a campaign member of a political party was armed with a gun and to determine the person that provided him with that weapon," Fretilin secretary general Mari Alkatiri said.

"Fretilin condemns all forms of violence and proactive campaigning. Those who are guilty of perpetrating violence must be arrested and brought to trial so that justice can be served."

© 2007 AAP

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