Subject: PM Alkatiri accused of illegally ordering army against demonstrators

East Timor: PM Alkatiri accused of illegally ordering army against demonstrators

Dili, East Timor, May 17 (Lusa) - A dissident army officer accused East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri Wednesday of having illegally ordered the army to move against demonstrators and rioters last month in a crackdown that left five dead and about 80 injured.

Major Alfredo Reinado told Lusa that Alkatiri ordered the army intervention in Dili, in support of police forces, on April 28 without consulting President Xanana Gusmão, the supreme commander of the armed forces, in an "unconstitutional decision".

"Everything was ordered by Mari Alkatiri, the prime minister himself, and I witnessed the process", Maj. Reinado, the commander of the Military Police, who broke with the military hierarchy after the violence, said.

Contacted by Lusa, Army chief Colonel Lere Anan Timor confirmed Reinado's account.

Officials in the president's office also said there had been no meeting between Gusmão and Alkatiri to discuss the use of the military against the demonstrators and rioters, many of whom were recently sacked soldiers protesting alleged regional discrimination in the armed forces.

Attempts by Lusa to contact the prime minister for a reaction were unsuccessful, and Alkatiri's office declined comment.

The accusation coincided with the start of a ruling FRETILIN party congress, where Alkatiri's leadership of party and government is being challenged for the first time.

Police mounted a tight security operation Wednesday in the East Timorese capital, as FRETILIN delegates gathered for the three-day congress that runs through Friday.

In his opening speech, Alkatiri told delegates that his embattled government would shortly announce measures to boost regional autonomy in the new nation with the creation of municipalities with "clear and rigorous limiting of their powers".

Combat of poverty in Asia's poorest nation will be a "new national cause", he added, and this strategy "will only make sense with a background of stability".

"Investors, as it is well known, are conservative. They don't like risks or vaguely defined policies".

Turning to the subject of Timor's military crisis, sparked by the sacking of hundreds of troops in March, Alkatiri said the "question could have been resolved" within the army, if the dispute hadn't spilled over into over areas of political debate and into the media spotlight.

Protests by the dismissed soldiers and their supporters last month in Dili led to deadly riots in which at least five people died and tens of thousands fled the capital.

Many of these displaced people have still not returned home and others are sleeping in churches and other buildings at night in fear of further violence.

The more than 500 FRETILIN delegates, gathered in a gymnasium next to the National University in Dili, are due to vote Friday morning on the key party positions of secretary-general and president, posts currently held by Alkatiri and Parliamentary Speaker Francisco Guterres, respectively.

Results of the leadership ballot are expected to be announced lunchtime the same day in Dili.

Alkatiri is being challenged for the party's leadership by Timor's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, José Luís Guterres, who says Dili`s government chief is out of touch with ordinary Timorese.

Guterres has also pledged to introduce more transparency into government if he is elected as party leader.

FRETILIN won pre-independence elections in 2001 with 57% of the ballot to dominate a parliament with splintered opposition benches.

New general elections are slated for next year.

In announcing his alternative candidacy, Guterres declared:

"After so many years of prolonged struggle, the Timorese people continue to suffer. The program of my candidacy rests on the strengthening of democracy and transparency".

Alkatiri's office confirmed this week that he would stand down as government chief in FRETILIN chooses Guterres, but the prime minister has said he is confident of victory in the leadership poll.

Junior cabinet member Egídio de Jesus has been picked by Guterres as the opposition ticket's candidate for party president.

De Jesus has been criticized by some pro-Alkatiri members of the government for not resigning from the cabinet ahead of challenging FRETILIN current leaders.

Abel Ximenes, who resigned as development minister after last month's fatal mob violence in Dili, is also supporting the challenge to Alkatiri's stewardship, along with Timor's ex-ambassador to Canberra, Jorge Teme.

EL/RBV/CJB/SAS.

Lusa

 


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