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East Timor court sentences rebels for presidential assassination attempt

[JURIST] A court in East Timor [BBC backgrounder] on Wednesday sentenced 24 individuals for the attempted assassination of the country's president and prime minister in 2008. The individuals, former government and military officials displaced after civil unrest resulted in a change in government in 2006, had been accused of attacking President Jose Ramos-Horta [BBC profile] at his home in the capital of Dili, resulting in injuries. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao [BBC profile], the country's first president, was also attacked, but he escaped harm. Sentences varied for each defendant, with some receiving up to 16 years in prison [Al Jazeera report]. One of the most high-profile defendants, Angelita Pires, was found not guilty [SMH report]. Pires was romantically linked to Alfredo Reinado, a former military leader who led the attack on Horta. Reinado was killed in the attack, and Pires has long professed his innocence, going so far as to offer a defense that Reinado was lured to Horta's home in order to be assassinated. The attempted assassinations led to the declaration of a state of emergency [JURIST report] in East Timor, in an attempt to quell the long-standing tension between the government and those former members of the military.

The attempted assassination of Horta and Gusmao is often cited as an important factor in the calming of tensions in the tumultuous country. Much of the conflict within East Timor stems from the country's attempts to gain independence from Indonesia in 1999, following a 25-year occupation. Last August, Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in attempting to resolve the Timor-Indonesian conflict, rejected a call for a criminal tribunal [JURIST report] to investigate abuses during the Timorese bid for independence, saying that such a tribunal would harm reconciliation between the two nations. The request for a criminal tribunal [JURIST report], to be appointed by the UN, had been made by Amnesty International [advocacy website], which cited the lack of investigation into abuses during that period. In 2008, Indonesia accepted a truth commission report [JURIST report] that indicated it was responsible for rights abuses during the 1999 referendum for independence.

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