Subject: IPS/East Timor: 'Joint Police-Military Action On Rebels a Mistake'

Inter Press Service February 29, 2008

East Timor: 'Joint Police-Military Action On Rebels a Mistake'

Analysis by Setyo Budi

DILI - A joint police and military operation mounted against renegade soldiers, following the Feb. 11 shooting of President Jose Ramos-Horta, has been condemned as a 'mistake' and one that could compound the serious dissensions that plague the two forces.

"The crisis started with petitioners within the F-FDTL (army) and PNTL (police) complaining of (discrimination between) easterners and westerners... although the case is dying it is like rekindling the embers,'' said Mario Carascallao, head of the Democratic Socialist Party (PSD) that is a member of the ruling alliance.

While the role of the F-FDTL (Falintil-Forças de Defesa de Timor Leste) is primarily to protect East Timor against external threats, it does have an internal security role mandate that overlaps with the functions of the Policia National de Timor Leste (PNTL). This has led to friction and serious clashes between the two forces that already have to deal with problems between personnel from the eastern region and those from the west of the country.

Carascallao is angry that his party was not consulted when the decision to have a joint operation against the rebels was made. He said the PSD will "never accept any violence to solve a political problem" and that the government "doesn't have real evidence'' about the Feb. 11 incident. Renegade leader Alfredo Reinado was killed in the incident which is alleged to have been a coup attempt.

There appears to be prevarication on the part of the government on joint- operations too. A military parade involving troops of the F-FDTL and the PNTL was organised on Feb. 22, but this came a day after Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak, the F-FDTL commander, announced there would be no joint operations.

Carascallao observed that the sudden change showed lack of coordination among government institutions that had the potential of raising ''suspicions and undermining people's confidence in the government.''

There is much speculation in Dili on how the Timorese president ended up being shot. Legislators and officials, including the F-FDTL commander, have pointed to the failure of the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) to detect and stop Reinado from entering Dili.

Consisting of Australian-led peacekeepers and United Nations police, the ISF was deployed in East Timor in May 2006 after factional fighting broke out among sections of the security forces that left 37 people dead and forced 150,000 others to flee their homes.

Claiming discrimination against officers from the eastern districts, a 600-strong group of rebels led by Reinado, a major in the military police, took to the mountains. He successfully evaded attempts by the ISF, particularly troops of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF), to capture or eliminate him.

Last week, Jean- Marie Guehenno, head of the U.N. peacekeeping operations, said at a U.N. Security Council debate that some 100,000 people continue to remain displaced. He called for the grievances of the rebels to be addressed in order to avoid further unrest.

The Security Council has extended by a year the world body's mission in East Timor to help stabilise the situation in the impoverished country. The U.N. has appealed to the renegades to give up their struggle and special envoy in Dili, Atul Khare, has said that if they surrendered their rights would be protected.

While the exact circumstances of the Feb. 11 shooting are still unknown, it took place amidst a serious attempt at reconciliation. On Feb. 7, a meeting initiated and facilitated by Horta and attended by top political leaders -- including Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao -- discussed solutions to the rebel soldiers' issue, including peaceful reinstatement and the calling of early elections in 2009.

East Timor last held general elections in 2007. The ruling Alliance Majority Parliament (AMP) was formed after the election, but the powerful Fretilin party, which was ousted from power in the elections, challenged the new formation as unconstitutional.

The all-party meeting was initiated by Horta and based on a proposal by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Fretilin be involved in solving the renegade soldiers' issue and other problems of East Timor.

Even before the meeting, friction had developed between Reinado's group and the ADF. A meeting that involved three parliamentarians and Reinado and his group was apparently disrupted by the ADF.

Among those who attended that meeting with Reinado was Adriano Nascimento, a Democratic Party legislator, who told IPS that the priority now is to find out the real truth of what happened on Feb. 11.

''A commission formed to investigate the incident must answer questions on ADF's knowledge on Reinado's whereabouts as it monitored his movements round-the-clock,'' Nascimento said.

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