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East Timor jail escapee to be pardoned -

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East Timor jail escapee to be pardoned

The World Today - Thursday, 24 April , 2008 12:25:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

ELEANOR HALL: In East Timor, the man jailed for instigating much of the country's unrest two years
ago is to receive an official pardon.

Rogerio Lobato - the former Interior Minister - was found guilty of manslaughter and of
distributing weapons to a civilian hit squad.

He was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail but barely six months into his term he has been
allowed to leave the country for medical treatment.

Now, political analysts are warning that the pardon will only encourage him to wreak further damage
on the fragile state as Anne Barker reports.

ANNE BARKER: Last August an intriguing political drama played out on the tarmac at Dili airport.

A light plane was stranded for 24 hours - as East Timor's Government wrangled with the courts on
whether the man inside - Rogerio Lobato - could fly to Malaysia for heart surgery.

The former Interior Minister had served just five months of a seven-year sentence for inciting much
of the unrest that destabilised East Timor two years ago.

The courts had granted permission - but the incoming government desperately tried to stop him -
knowing he'd probably never come back.

After all his wife, children, father-in-law, nephew and other family members all went with him.

Sure enough, nine months on, Lobato has not returned to East Timor.

But now, the President Jose Ramos-Horta has announced an official pardon for 80 prisoners -
including Lobato - on the grounds of good behaviour.

In a lengthy speech to parliament in Portuguese, the President declared that Independence Day on
May the 20th will be a day of forgiveness and clemency.

The decision has caused deep concern among political commentators.

JOHN VIRGOE: Nobody who was responsible or involved in the violence in 2006 is currently in prison
and very few people have been through any sort of judicial process.

ANNE BARKER: John Virgoe is South East Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group
which monitors political and security issues across the region.

JOHN VIRGOE: I think a lot of people have been pretty dubious about whether the government was ever
committed to seeing anybody behind bars since 2006.

ANNE BARKER: The President's decision to pardon Lobato shouldn't really come as a surprise - even
before his release from jail, East Timor's parliament had just passed a law allowing clemency for
certain crimes and cynics speculated it was drafted solely with Lobato in mind.

At the time President Ramos-Horta said he did not support amnesty for serious crimes but John
Virgoe says he's at a loss as to why the president has now done just that.

JOHN VIRGOE: You have to ask whether it is actually helpful that we have this repeated rounds of
amnesties and forgiveness. At some point, if you are going to break that cycle of conflict, people
must start to be held responsible for their actions.

ANNE BARKER: What difference does it make in the end? I mean he has been gone now nearly nine
months. He was never going to come back to East Timor was he, if he still faced a seven year jail
sentence?

JOHN VIRGOE: Well, I think that is precisely the difference. That now he can come back to East
Timor. He is such a divisive figure politically in East Timor especially since 2006 that his
presence in East Timor, I think, some other people will be looking with some dismay at that
prospect, feeling that he might well complicate process of reform that is taking place within
Fretelin, within the opposition political party.

He may also complicate the process of security sector reform because he was the person above anyone
else who was responsible for the politicisation of the police.

ANNE BARKER: So you think East Timor would have been better rid of him altogether?

JOHN VIRGOE: Well, I think nobody was shedding tears that he was outside the country. My view is
that people who were responsible and have been found guilty, should in fact be behind bars. Second
best is to have them off the scene. The worst of all worlds is to have them at liberty in East
Timor.

ELEANOR HALL: That is John Virgoe, from the International Crisis Group, talking to Anne Barker.