East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday he recently shook hands with the rebellious soldier who shot him last year, but had not yet named him to prosecutors.
Horta, who was in Bangkok for a peace seminar, told an audience that on Dec. 26 he shook hands with the man who shot him on Feb. 11, leaving him on the verge of death.
“He still hasn’t had the courage to tell the prosecutor ‘it was me,’ and I haven’t told the prosecutor because I hope that he will tell the court,” Horta said.
Horta, the 1996 Nobel peace laureate, was shot by a rebel soldier in Dili and lost 4 liters of blood before he was admitted to an Australian medical clinic for emergency treatment.
He spent 10 days in Darwin, Australia, in critical condition, but survived the assault and is now in good health, as is East Timor, he said.
“The immediate consequence is that the country stood back from our conflict and we entered a period of peace as never witnessed in our country,” said Horta of the unsuccessful assassination attempt.
Horta’s yet-unnamed assailant was one of 700 disgruntled East Timorese soldiers who rebelled against the government over lack of pay and other complaints early last year.
Shortly after the near-slaying, the rebels entered negotiations with the Dili government and surrendered in May. Leaders of the group are now awaiting trial.
“Since then I have met with them, including the gentleman who shot me,” Horta said. “I shook hands with him on Dec. 26, which was my birthday.”
Horta said he had no doubt about the culprit.
“I saw his face, his eyes, and I flashed back to Feb. 11, and that was the person,” he said.
Horta was only about 20m from his assailant when he was shot down with an AK-47.
The president said he had seen the assailant and quickly turned, avoiding being shot in the chest and perhaps saving his own life.
“I believe it was an irrational act on that morning,” he said of the attack. “I just hope that he will step forward and say: ‘yes, I did it,’ and say why he did it.”
Ironically, Horta was the chief proponent of opening negotiations with the rebellious soldiers to meet their demands. That process is now under way.
East Timor is one of the world’s newest countries. A former colony of Portugal, it was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975.
A plebiscite calling for independence in 1999 led to a bloody crackdown by Indonesian soldiers that killed hundreds, prompting intervention by the UN.
East Timor gained its sovereignty in May 2002.