Timorese rebel may surrender to the Catholic Church

.- A rebel commander who took part in the assassination attempt on the president of East Timor surrendered to Timorese security forces early Sunday morning, inspiring hopes that a rebel leader will soon surrender to the Catholic Church, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Amaro Da Costa was at the home of East Timor’s President, Jose Ramos-Horta, the morning the president was shot and seriously wounded.  Da Costa has agreed to tell authorities all he knows about the attacks.

Da Costa’s surrender is considered a breakthrough and has fueled speculation about the imminent surrender of other rebels.   Da Costa, a former police commando, was a confidant of the rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed during the gunfight at President Ramos-Horta’s house.

Another rebel leader, Gastao Salsinha, reportedly has been negotiating his surrender to the Catholic Church.

East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who was also targeted in the attacks, has approved the Church’s role, saying he does not want rebels killed during a hunt by Australian SAS troops.

Support for Salsinha has weakened after the attacks.  More than 500 of his former soldiers have arrived in Dili for negotiations to settle their grievances.  The soldiers had been fired from the army after going on strike, triggering a violent upheaval that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes.  The government has indicated that it is willing to give the former soldiers three years’ salary or reinstate them in the army.

President Ramos-Horta continues to recover from his critical wounds in Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia.  According to Reuters, the president has forgiven the rebel leader. 

Acting President Fernando Lasama, who visited the president over the weekend, told a news conference in Dili that the president had forgiven Reinado and has asked the government to look after the rebel’s family.  "The President also asked people to end the violence in the country," Lasama said, adding, "the operation against rebels must continue until petitioners and Salsinha's group give up and hand over all weapons."

The announcement is seen as an attempt to pave the way to reconciliation and to encourage the president’s attackers to surrender.

Prime Minister Gusmao has explicitly appealed for the remaining rebels to surrender.  “I am asking you to co-operate with the joint command so that people can live in tranquillity," he said from the government palace on Sunday, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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