|Subject: SMH: Timor erupts as rebel flees
Sydney Morning Herald
Timor erupts as rebel flees deadly raid
Lindsay Murdoch and Mark Forbes in East Timor March 5, 2007
SECURITY forces in East Timor were bracing last night for escalating violence after Australian soldiers killed four Timorese men in a botched raid to capture the rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.
After Reinado humiliated the Australians early yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, who is in Indonesia, warned that the soldiers would capture the rebel dead or alive. "Every effort will be made to capture him alive, but I think the best advice I can give Major Reinado is to surrender. He can hide in the jungle for only so long," he said.
The United Nations yesterday ordered police in East Timor's provincial towns to the capital, Dili, to reinforce the more than 1000 UN police already deployed there.
As dusk fell last night, Reinado's supporters were again gathering across the city, after riots earlier in the day. People enraged by the raid had also rioted in the towns of Gleno and Ermera.
The rebel leader humiliated the soldiers when he and some of his men escaped from a hilltop base during a 90-minute gun battle. Australian personnel were last night hunting Reinado on foot in East Timor's rugged central mountains.
He fled the base in the town of Same as dozens of soldiers, backed by two Black Hawk helicopters and three armoured personnel carriers, launched an attack in darkness early yesterday.
But the Australian-trained rebel knew they were coming and had sent at least six phone messages to journalists and diplomats. "We are on alert to take any kind of attack," he said shortly before the assault.
Reinado and an unknown number of his men managed to escape even though the Australians were more heavily armed, had the benefit of night-vision equipment and had blockaded the base for six days.
Gastao Salsinha, the commander of 700 soldiers sacked from East Timor's army last year, told the Herald from a village where he was hiding yesterday that after his escape he and his men had now "dedicated our lives" to fight for the rights of East Timor's 1 million people.
"How can the Australians come here and create instability?" he asked.
Salsinha said he escaped with two bodyguards and seven youths as the Australians stormed the base firing automatic weapons, but did not say how. He said he did not know what had happened to Reinado, but would not be surprised if he had been wounded in the fierce battle.
The rebel leader's escape emboldened his supporters, who chanted "long live Reinado" as they fought running battles with UN police on the streets of Dili.
Rioters trashed cars and two government buildings in Dili and Gleno, a small town in East Timor's coffee-growing western mountains where Reinado grew up. His escape will also boost the popularity of the former head of East Timor's military police, already a cult-hero figure throughout the country. Banners and placards declaring him a hero were put up yesterday in many of Dili's suburbs.
The Howard Government, fearing widespread violence, possibly even civil war, flew a 100-strong contingent of SAS troops to East Timor less than 24 hours before the attack, which had the approval of the Timorese Government. Australia already had 800 soldiers in the country, serving with 120 New Zealanders in what is called the International Security Force. The force's commander, Mal Rerden, said in Dili that soldiers killed the four Timorese men because they were armed and "posed an unpredictable threat."
"We don't have him," a grim Brigadier Rerden told journalists, referring to Reinado.
"We are continuing the operation to capture him."
Brigadier Rerden denied the operation had been botched, but declined to give details.
"Any operation is a series of phases - this operation is ongoing and it will succeed," he said.
Brigadier Rerden said his troops had cleared Reinado's base and captured some prisoners. He declined to say how many.
Since Tuesday Reinado had been mocking the Australian soldiers dug in at the edge of Same, saying he had a comfortable bed and could watch television while they were sitting in the bush getting bitten by mosquitoes.
In telephone conversations with the Herald, Reinado repeatedly warned that East Timor would plunge into civil war if the Australian troops attacked him. He told the Timorese Prosecutor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, on Saturday that he would surrender on the condition that he would be able to take care of his own security in Dili while waiting to testify at a specially convened tribunal about his role in violent upheaval last year.
The government in Dili rejected the condition.
Wanted on charges of murder and rebellion, Reinado has been on the run since he led a mass escape from Dili's main jail last year.
Only hours after yesterday's attack, East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao, appealed for calm in a televised address to the nation, saying "the interests of the state are bigger than any one person or group".
Mr Gusmao asked Brigadier Rerden to mount an operation to capture Reinado after he had led a raid on police border posts last weekend and seized 25 high-powered weapons and other military equipment. He promised Reinado that if he and his men surrendered "the state will look after their dignity".
"But there is no other way … the only way is to hand over their weapons and surrender."
Brigadier Rerden also made a new appeal for Reinado to hand over his weapons and surrender.
He said if Reinado did not surrender the consequences would be his responsibility.
Mr Downer denied the failure to capture Reinado and increased unrest on the streets of Dili threatened plans to hold elections next month for a new Timorese president.
"You can't have a situation in the face of the strongly expressed preference of the Prime Minister, President and president of the parliament, where a renegade former military officer is able to raid police stations, take weapons from police stations, which they have done, and basically build an armed compound," Mr Downer said.
Speaking on his arrival in Indonesia yesterday for a counter-terrorism summit, Mr Downer said a written request for Australian troops to apprehend Reinado had come signed by Mr Gusmao and the Timorese Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta.
Anger festering under the surface like a boil ready to burst
Alex Dalley in Dili
March 5, 2007
GUNSHOTS in the distance woke us at 2.30am. My partner Megan was persistently shaking me, and when I heard the slow repetitive gunfire I was wide awake. It was coming from several directions at once, some faint and far off, some much louder and nearby.
Our suburb in Dili is the leafy old establishment neighbourhood of Kuluhun. Our house is on a slight rise, so the sounds at night are always clear. People do not stray far from their home turf in East Timor, particularly at the moment, and the local kids sit on the corner. Their songs and yelling often rouse me in the night, so I am used to hearing loud bangs in my sleep and dozing off quickly.
Gunfire is different. The adrenaline kicks in once you realise what it is. During last year's soccer World Cup I heard gunfire and jumped out of bed. I was up packing a backpack yelling "This is it, it's time to go" before I realised that Italy had won the trophy and the noise was fireworks.
After hearing real gunfire, deep sleep is impossible, so there was plenty of time for reflection as Megan and I tried to get back to sleep. I kept thinking about getting more information.
Most of the foreigners in East Timor are on a network called the "security tree". This is a list of mobile phones that circulate messages with updates from sources such as the United Nations police, World Bank Australian volunteer co-ordinators and various embassies. Some of this information is correct and timely but much of it is vague and late.
At 3am I received a message from UN police saying there was heavy fighting in three suburbs closer to the government and business centre. It was a relief to hear that it was quite a distance away, but much more concerning was that the fighting was between international forces and armed Timorese. This was a first.
One of the young men I work with explained it best. We were talking about the trial of the former interior minister Rogerio Lobato, and how people were feeling about the process. He said there was anger throughout East Timor. He described his anger as a giant boil that was festering under the surface, still building but not yet ready to burst.
As I write this, children still play outside my house. The never ending sweeping of the street continues. But in the distance I can hear bangs or gunfire and I worry that the boil is ready to burst.
Alex Dalley is an Australian agriculturalist who has been working in East Timor since March 2004.
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