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East Timor hit squad trial to open
Former interior minister claims he was acting on orders of then prime minister.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2006 02:17 GMT
Rogerio Lobato, centre, was arrested
in June, weeks after he resigned

East Timor's former interior minister is to go on trial on Thursday on charges of arming a political hit squad as the tiny nation descended into violence earlier this year.
 
Rogerio Lobato has claimed he was acting on the orders of the then prime minister, Mari Alkatiri.

Alkatiri resigned in June after street battles in the capital killed 37 people and sent more than 155,000 fleeing their homes.

Lobato also resigned in June, to take responsibility, he said, for the riots sparked by the sacking of more than a third of the military. He was arrested three weeks later.

During closed court hearings in June and July Lobato twice admitted  that he armed civilian Timorese so they could murder enemies of the ruling Fretilin party, court monitors have revealed.
 
But days later he claimed he was coerced by Australian soldiers into making false declarations in court - charges denied by officials in Canberra.
 
Security fears
 
Thursday preliminary hearing will be held in the East Timor High Court, near the headquarters of Australian peacekeepers, instead of the Dili District Court for security reasons, said George Barbosa da Silva, a court official.
 
Vincente "Railos'' da Concecao, the self-proclaimed leader of the hit squad, said he would attend as a witness.
 
East Timor has been plagued by instability since rival security forces clashed in the capital, Dili, in April and May after Alkatiri's government sacked 600 soldiers.

The arrival of more than 2,500 foreign peacekeepers and the installation of a new government brought some respite, but there have been isolated cases of gang warfare, looting and arson attacks in recent months.

Alkatiri has been questioned several times about the hit squad allegations but he has denied the charges.

It is unclear if he will run in general elections scheduled for May 7.
Source:
Agencies
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