Antioch Alumnus Shot in Coup Attempt

Jose Ramos-Horta, an Antioch Alum and current President of East Timor (Timor Leste), is in critical but stable condition after an assassination attempt at his house in Dili, East Timor. One of Ramos-Horta’s bodyguards was killed in the struggle following the shooting. Rebel Leader Alfredo Reinado has also been killed, reportedly from injuries sustained during the attack on Ramos-Horta’s House. Doctors say Ramos-Horta is expected to make a full recovery, despite suffering several gunshot wounds to his abdomen and chest area.
The attack has renewed fears of further violence in a country still reeling from rampant rioting and chaos following the expulsion of six hundred soldiers from the national army in 2006. It also exposes the bitter emotions and discontentment that still persists from before the country achieved independence from Indonesia in 1999.
Reinado is credited as having a major role in the shooting this week. East Timor has suffered from periodic bouts of intense violence between the government and the militant group that Reinado is associated with. He has been on the run since his involvement in several killings in mid-2006. Notoriously, Reinado was once captured and imprisoned but mounted a daring and successful escape and has been living in the mountains ever since. He harbored a deep conviction that his militant efforts kept the country from spinning out of control, saying that “without me, there would be trouble everywhere,” while claiming that the politicians were the ones that were hiding and accused the current political leadership of stifling dreams of a prosperous East Timor.
Ramos-Horta has a long history of supporting the East Timorese people, a feat that has earned him many awards and widespread recognition, including the Nobel Peace prize, awarded for his “sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people.” He has seen the small country achieve independence following the Portuguese decolonization of the island in 1975, which had occupied East Timor with little interruption since the sixteenth century. This victory turned out to be extremely short-lived, for in the same year the country was invaded by Indonesia, which then occupied the country until 1999. Having fled the country days prior to the invasion, Ramos- Horta became East Timor’s Foreign Minister at the age of 25, and pleaded to the UN to act on behalf of the pro-independence government. In the following decades, more than a hundred thousand East Timorese would die from conflict related deaths.
In 1999, the UN sponsored talks with Indonesia, Portugal and the United States that led to Indonesia granting independence to East Timor. Following the agreement there was discord in the various pro-Indonesia militias and sporadic fighting threaten to destabilize the country. It wasn’t until an Australian Peacekeeping force called INTERFET, a subsequent UN peacekeeping mission called UNTAET and broad international attention that the militias dispersed and relative peace under an independent government was achieved.
In 2006, there was widespread dissatisfaction and rioting, during which, Alfredo Reinado led an army of several hundred soldiers who were dismissed from the national army in opposition of the government. The terrible violence at that time spurned upheaval in the highest levels of government and led the way for Ramos-Horta to become President of East Timor. It was during this time that Ramos-Horta was appointed Prime Minister after Mari Alkatiri was forced to resign by then President Xanana Gusmão. In a democratic election in 2007, Ramos-Horta won the Presidency in a second round vote, defeating Francisco Guterres.
The citizens of East Timor have been under a strict curfew since the attempted assassination, and Australian troops are patrolling the streets alongside soldiers from the national army. There is said to be an uneasy calm, with the majority of people staying inside during the mandated curfew. Some have already left, fearing new outbreaks of violence.
Many residents who were displaced during the riots in 2006 have yet to return their homes and many live in now deteriorating refugee camps. Adding to the pressure are many of the youth, who are finding themselves severely limited financially and are turning their resentment towards the government. East Timor has many significant challenges to face before finding its way to a lasting stability.