Policeman accused of killing three at Timor-Leste party

Protesters demand justice for victims as president says he is 'deeply saddened' by the tragedy
Policeman accused of killing three at Timor-Leste party

Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres shows his marked finger after casting his ballot during the general election in Dili on May 12. He said the Kuluhun shooting has 'devastated our hearts.' (Photo by Valentino Dariell De Sousa/AFP)

The people of Timor-Leste, including its president, have condemned the killing of three people at a party, allegedly by a drunken policeman.

Police chief Julio da Costa Hornay said the suspect, police officer Jose Mina, has been apprehended after the shootings on the morning of Nov. 18. He said the party was hosted by Mina's police colleague in the Kuluhun area of Dili, the capital of the tiny Catholic nation.

"Their attitude has damaged the reputation of the East Timor police institution," Hornay said. "We will punish them."

The party was being held to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of the host's relative.

Witnesses said the shooting began with a fight between two guests. Mina, who was in plain clothes, raised his gun to warn them to stop fighting when the electricity suddenly went out just after midnight.

Witnesses said Mina, apparently heavily drunk, stood on a bench and opened fire randomly in the dark. Three men died instantly and five other guests were hospitalized with gun wounds.

The killings sparked protests throughout Dili on Nov. 19, with demonstrators shouting "Police are murderers" and demanding justice.

The three who died were Eric Joni Roberto Bria, 20, shot in the head, Luis Quebin Saldanha Belo, 18, shot in the throat, and Leonildo Eduardo Ximenes Sequeira, 20, shot in the chest.

"We also met the families and apologized for the brutal actions of our members. The police have also prepared three coffins and shouldered the funeral expenses," said Hornay.

President Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres said the use of guns bought by taxpayers' money to kill people is unacceptable.

"I'm deeply saddened by the incident. The police as protectors of the community should not use force, let alone kill innocent civilians," he said.

"The Kuluhun shooting has devastated our hearts. To see a police officer acting against the law, wearing plain clothes and going to party with a gun and shooting young people, it's painful to us."

Guterres also called on people to trust the police despite the tragedy.

Father Herminio de Fatima Goncalves, chairman of Dili's Justice and Peace Commission, said people were grieving the tragedy, especially as it happened when people were commemorating their loved one.

He said this was not the first time that armed policemen had threatened civilians, but some cases were not settled because the government failed to take serious action.

"We hope the investigation continues to respond to the call for justice by society, particularly the victims' families," Father Goncalves said.

Dili District Court held a first hearing of the case on Nov. 20 when prosecutor Jacinto Babo ordered the detention of Mina and the party's host.

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