April 17, 2008 / 12:50 AM / 11 years ago

East Timor's Ramos-Horta returns home to warm welcome

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta arrived home on Thursday to a cheering crowd of thousands after more than two months of treatment in Australia for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in February.

East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao (R) greets President Jose Ramos-Horta upon his arrival at the airport in Dili April 17, 2008. REUTERS/ Dadang Tri

A military parade welcomed Ramos-Horta as he stepped out of the plane at Dili airport where people waved national flags and carried photographs of the president as they shouted “Viva President Ramos-Horta”.

The 58-year-old Nobel laureate, who was shot and critically wounded in an attack by rebel soldiers at his home in Dili on February 11, thanked parliament, government officials, the Church, the people of East Timor and the international community for their support.

“I’m happy to be back in Timor-Leste,” Ramos-Horta told a news conference at the airport, where he was received by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, opposition leader Mari Alkatiri and other government ministers and diplomats.

He drove to his beachside house to the beating of drums played by students and a traditional welcome dance while soldiers stood guard.

“I’m happy that he is back. He will bring unity to the country,” said Joao Freitas, a local resident who sat near Ramos-Horta’s thatched-roof house, watching people dance.

Ramos-Horta nearly lost his life when he was shot twice after gunmen loyal to rebel leader Alfredo Reinado launched early morning attacks on the president and Gusmao.

Reinado died during the attack on Ramos-Horta, while Gusmao escaped unharmed in the separate attack.

The president also asked the leader of army rebels Gastao Salsinha, who took command of rebel soldiers after Reinado, to surrender.

“I don’t want anybody to die,” he said, holding back his tears. “Gastao should surrender to justice and hand over his weapons.”

The president, whose job is mainly ceremonial in East Timor’s parliamentary system, said investigations indicated the involvement of elements within Indonesia in Reinado’s action.

But he said this did not mean the Indonesian government or military was involved.

“Indonesia is a country with 250 million people. It is impossible for the government to control every individual who might do things outside government policy,” he told reporters.

Reinado once worked as a porter for the Indonesian military in the early years of Jakarta’s occupation of East Timor.

TIGHT SECURITY

East Timor has tightened security for the veteran freedom-fighter who has always shunned heavy security and had said he will remain in his isolated Dili residence, despite advice from security officials to move to a more secure location.

Ramos-Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize, has often said he wished for a quieter life to write his memoirs of East Timor’s long struggle for independence from Indonesian rule.

Slideshow (9 Images)

As Asia’s youngest nation, East Timor has been unable to achieve stability since its hard-won independence, despite its oil and gas resources.

The East Timor army tore apart along regional lines in 2006, when about 600 soldiers were sacked, triggering factional violence that killed 37 people.

More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the country to help local security forces maintain stability.

Reporting by Tito Belo; Writing by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Sugita Katyal and David Fogarty

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