EastTimor-President’s 3rdLd-Writethru 04-16 routed by dwight
East Timor’s president returns home two months after assassination attempt
Eds: RECASTS with comments by Ramos-Horta; UPDATES photo number
AP Photo DILI101
By GUIDO GOULART
Associated Press Writer
DILI, East Timor (AP) — President Jose Ramos-Horta returned to East Timor on Thursday after recovering from wounds suffered in an assassination attempt he linked to "elements" in Indonesia, his nation’s former occupying ruler.
Thousands of supporters cheered and clapped as the Nobel laureate stepped off the plane, accompanied by bodyguards, aides and a doctor. Some waved East Timorese flags and banners that said "Welcome home our beloved president! We love you!"
The 58-year-old was shot by rebel soldiers in front of his house in the capital, Dili, on Feb. 11 in a coordinated attack on the country’s leadership. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unharmed from an ambush on his motorcade the same day.
Ramos-Horta said continuing investigations showed that notorious rebel commander Alfredo Reinado — who carried out the assassination attempt and was killed in a firefight that ensued — had "a lot of contacts ... with elements in Indonesia."
He stressed, however, that Indonesia’s government and army were in no way implicated and said his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had promised full cooperation in the probe.
Ramos-Horta also appealed for rebels still on the run — including their current commander, Gustao Salsinha — to give themselves up.
"I do not want Mr. Salsinha or any more Timorese to lose their lives," he told reporters at the airport. "Too many Timorese have died. Mr. Salsinha has to surrender to justice."
East Timor declared independence in 2002 following decades of harsh rule by Indonesia and a period of U.N. administration. Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between government troops and mutinous soldiers and more than 150,000 others forced to flee their homes.
Ramos-Horta almost died as a result of the attack. He was evacuated to the northern Australian city of Darwin, where he spent more than two weeks in a medically induced coma and underwent multiple surgeries to repair gunshot wounds to his torso.
Dr. Rui de Araujo, the president’s personal physician, said Thursday that Ramos-Horta’s recovery has been remarkable.
"The wounds have completely closed," de Araujo told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "He still has some neuropathic pain, but that is normal for the kind of damage he had... Medically speaking he is up to 90 percent cured."
Ramos-Horta won the 1996 Nobel Peace prize for his role in winning his impoverished country’s independence from decades of often-brutal Indonesian rule. It became Asia’s newest nation in 2001, but the euphoria quickly evaporated amid the challenges of governing a divided, impoverished people.
"Our president has come home," said Eusebio de Lima, 59, who has been living in a squalid refugee camp for more than a year. "Even after being shot, he’s home. This just shows how much he loves our country."