Subject: AFP: Rally for Timor ex-minister on gun charges

Rally for Timor ex-minister on gun charges

January 09, 2007 04:28pm

Agence France-Presse

HUNDREDS of supporters of former home affairs minister Rogerio Lobato rallied today in East Timor outside the court where he was due to go on trial on weapons distribution charges.

Mr Lobato has been charged with involvement in arming civilians during unrest last year.

A panel of one local and two UN judges first questioned one of Mr Lobato's co-defendants, Marcos Piedade alias Labadaen, and was due to hear from Mr Lobato this afternoon.

Some 300 of his supporters from the ruling Fretilin party rallied in front of the Dili Appeal Court in a show of support for the former minister before the hearing started.

The protesters, who arrived on dozens of trucks, buses and motorcycles, waved Fretilin flags and shouted "Long live Rogerio Lobato, Long live Fretilin,'' as some 50 UN and local police stood guard in and around the court building.

Mr Lobato is one of the founders of Falintil, the armed wing of the then pro-independence Fretilin movement which fought against Indonesian occupation and later turned into a political party.

"We rally here at our own initiative, to show support for Rogerio Lobato. He is one of the founders of the Fretilin and we will continue to protest in Dili until his trial ends,'' protester Mariano Andre said.

Mr Lobato, Mr Piedave and the two other defendants, Francisco Salsinha and Francisco Xavier Diegas, face charges of involvement in arming civilians during the violence that erupted in Dili in April and May following protests over the dismissal of some 600 soldiers.

A report from a UN inquiry into the violence said former prime minister Mari Alkatiri and Mr Lobato were among officials who should be investigated over possible involvement in the distribution of weapons.

Some 37 people were left dead in pitched battles between security forces during bloody street violence.

More than 150,000 people fled their homes and some 3200 Australian-led peacekeepers were deployed in May to restore calm.

Their numbers have since been reduced to around 1100.

East Timor gained independence in 2002 after a period of UN stewardship.

It was ruled by Indonesia for 24 years before its people voted overwhelmingly in 1999 in favour of breaking away from Jakarta.

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