Subject: East Timor court postpones former minister's arms trial

Also Timor minister 'will be convicted'

East Timor court postpones former minister's arms trial

DILI, November 30 (AFP) -- An East Timor court on Thursday postponed the trial of former home affairs minister Rogerio Lobato over the illegal distribution of weapons to civilians during unrest earlier this year.

The panel of one local and two UN judges put back the hearing until January 9 following the non-appearance of Marcos Piedave, one of Lobato's three co-defendants.

"The court has informed us that one of the defendants did not show up in court. So the court has decided that the second session be held on January 9th," Lobato's lawyer Paulo dos Remedios told journalists after the brief session lasting some 30 seconds was closed.

Lobato declined to comment but yelled "Viva Portugal" shortly before climbing into his car as he left the Appellate Court in Caicoli.

Dozens of his supporters had unfurled a banner saying "Long Live Rogerio Lobato, founder of the Falintil," referring to the armed wing of the East Timorese resistance during the days of Indonesian occupation.

The supporters also shouted "Long live Rogerio Lobato" repeatedly as some 20 armed UN police assisted by several local security guards were posted in and around the court building.

Lobato, 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 UN inquiry into the violence issued a report last month that said former prime minister Mari Alkatiri and 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 3,200 Australian- led peacekeepers were deployed in May to restore calm.

Their numbers have since been reduced to around 1,100.


Timor minister 'will be convicted'

November 29, 2006 - 9:05PM

Timor's chief prosecutor says he is confident of convicting former interior minister Rogerio Lobato on a range of counts including conspiracy and arms offences in a trial beginning in Dili on Thursday.

"We have 18 witnesses, from the highest level ... down to the common people," Dr Longuinhos Monteiro said.

"... we are confident of the indictment."

Lobato was dismissed as interior minister in May. Evidence was later presented in an Australian television documentary that he had distributed guns to civilians to kill the Fretilin government's opponents, with the support of former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who quit in early June.

Both ex-leaders are accused of key responsibility for the violence which has afflicted the former Portuguese colony and Indonesian territory since April, resulting in about 50 deaths and systematic arson attacks.

Thousands of people have fled to displaced persons' camps, where they remain.

Lobato has been under house arrest since mid-June, and will be tried by a panel of two international judges and one Timorese.

Australian soldiers are expected to provide security at the court.

Sources close to Dili Appeals Court where the disgraced minister will appear said star prosecution witnesses include ex-defence minister Roque Rodrigues, who was sacked along with Lobato, armed forces chief Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak and police commissioner Paulo Martins.

The charges carry penalties ranging between 18 and 24 years.

A notable absence will be Alkatiri who is in Mozambique, after leaving East Timor for medical treatment in Portugal a fortnight ago, with Dr Monteiro's permission.

He signed a written undertaking to return on December 2, although there is speculation he may not. He is listed as a secondary prosecution witness in the Lobato case.

The chief prosecutor said he needed greater international support to prosecute all those accused of responsibility by a recent UN report on the violence.

Timorese politicians agreed before its release to abide by the findings, but most have not kept their promise.

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