Subject: Fears for the future as East Timor simmers
By Jill Jolliffe
The Canberra Times March 8, 2008
Dili, March 7. United Nations officials and Australian troops have
taken back-seats in East Timor's nationwide sweep to arrest suspects
in the assassination bids against President Jose Ramos Horta and
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, with the national FDTL army playing an
increasingly powerful role. President Horta is recovering in a Darwin
hospital from the critical wounds he received in the attack led by
rebel soldier Alfredo Reinado, who was shot dead at the scene.
In Dili streets massive portraits of him bear the inscription ''Mr
President, Timor is praying for you and awaits your return''.
The UN was sidelined after an armed standoff between its police and
the Timorese army in the last days of February, and is playing down
criticisms of illegalities and human rights violations committed
during Operation Halibur, a joint army and police operation which has
been in full swing in the past week.
New Zealand and Australian troops from the International
Stabilisation Force and UN police are playing a secondary role to the
Timorese army, mainly escorting and guarding prisoners alongside
Timorese counterparts. UN Police Commissioner Rodolfo Tor said on
Thursday that the UN has ''full confidence in PNTL [the Timorese
police] and FDTL [the army]''.
He denied that suspects were being interrogated by Timorese army and
police without the presence of lawyers, but a UN legal source who
asked not to be named said earlier that suspects were routinely being
questioned without the presence of lawyers. Last Sunday Amaro da
Costa, ''Susar'', reportedly the chief suspect in the President's
shooting, was brought by helicopter from the mountains and paraded
before journalists 10 minutes after landing.
He made potentially incriminating statements, confessing he had been
at Ramos Horta's residence among the 12 armed men led by Alfredo
Reinado and had been at the gateway during the principal shooting.
Reinado was killed by a guard sometime before President Ramos Horta
was wounded by another of his group. Da Costa posed and smiled with
Prime Minister Gusmao and army and police chiefs, giving a carnival
air to the proceedings.
Operation Halibur commanders later distributed a flyer in Dili with
photos showing ''Susar'' hugging army chief Taur Matan Ruak and
police commander Alfonso de Jesus, and being accompanied by pretty
girls. ''We recognise this practice the Indonesians did the same
thing here during 24 years,'' former parliamentarian and Reinado
associate Leandro Isa'ac told The Canberra Times.
It was a busy week, which began with Da Costa's surrender, followed
by airlifts of scores of ex-soldiers who presented after mediation by
priests. It was designed to end with that of their commander, former
lieutenant Gastao Salsinha.
Salsinha was the alleged organiser of the separate attack on Gusmao's
convoy band the propaganda leaflet was directed largely at him. His
descent from the mountains with 30 men and a pile of guns was
announced by the army on successive days, but only occurred on Friday
A ''Lieutenant Amaral'' was the last of the 12 men involved in the
attack on the President's house to surrender, on Monday, and is in
custody after a court hearing. In an internment camp in Dili Major
Augusto de Araujo, code name ''Tara'', has a worried air. Officially
he supports the operation as part of a political deal to give rebel
soldiers known as ''petitioners'' fair trials and an eventual new
start in life.
But he is anxious. ''We have general faith in the negotiations, but
still have some issues of concern,'' he said. Tara is one of around
700 detained ex-soldiers, whose negotiated surrender predates
''Operation Halibur''. The drive to bring them in from the mountains
was simply accelerated after the February 11 attacks.
They are concentrated under guard on a barren field known as Aitarak
Laran, the place of thorns, an apt reminder of their situation. They
are surrendering to commanders of the Falintil/FDTL army, former
comrades who became their bitterest enemies after the petitioners
mutinied over alleged racial discrimination in 2006.
The troubles began after FDTL was mobilised by then prime minister
Mari Alkatiri to hunt down the unarmed petitioners after they
rampaged through Dili torching buildings and attacking Timorese from
the Melanesian-influenced east. The petitioners are now entirely in
the hands of the same army commanders who hunted them.
They themselves were accused of crimes by the UN but have not
surrendered to justice. ''I know FDTL is running the show,'' Tara
admits, ''but they are just one institution, whereas only the organs
of sovereignty [president, prime minister, cabinet and parliament]
can decide our fate, and we have confidence in the current Government.'
'The sidelining of the UN dates from an incident at Dili airport on
February 26 when FDTL soldiers surrounded a helicopter bringing
wanted petitioner Anterilau Ribeiro Guterres from the western enclave
They snatched him from UN police at gunpoint, leading to a crisis in
the Timor mission led by the Secretary- General's representative,
Atul Khare. The UN seems to have lost interest in the capture
operation since then. Major Tara said the interned petitioners had
not been visited by any UN official.
More importantly, the mission's human rights section has not taken a
stand on the circus- like atmosphere in which the army is presenting
surrendering prisoners. Almost a month after the assassination
attempts, the mystery that remains is why Reinado chose to attack
Ramos Horta, the man who had done most to offer benign conditions for
his surrender and trial, even offering an eventual pardon.
There are two schools of thought: one that he was just plain bad and
somewhat mad as a result of his tormented life during the Indonesian
occupation period. Reinado's detractors, principally from the
Fretilin party, warned repeatedly that he was a danger until he was
captured, denouncing the soft approach pursued by both President
Ramos Horta and the Prime Minister.
The other is that he had been ''turned'' by a third party and paid to
attack the pair, with Salsinha, for a substantial sum of money. The
prosecutor's office has been pursuing a money trail involving a
deposit of $1 million in the bank account of a close associate, while
newspaper reports have stated that a sum of $US20,000 was found on his body.
Leandro Isa'ac lived in the mountains with Reinado for some months in
2007 and was instrumental in trying to persuade him to surrender. He
parted company with him over what he saw as his refusal to face
reality. He is a supporter of the second theory. He points out that
neither Reinado nor Salsinha had anyone to put in the place of the
nation's top leaders if they killed them, constituting a coup.
''Somebody paid!'' he asserts, ''Alfredo became a mercenary.''
In Dili, citizens continue under the state of siege decreed after the
attacks, now extended until late March, involving a strict curfew and
limits on freedom of association. Unlike expatriates here who believe
that after Gastao Salsinha's surrender all problems will be solved,
Timorese fear new violence and abuses of power. They point to
abandonment of due legal process in the surrenders and to fears the
army is seeking political influence.
Jill Jolliffe is a special correspondent for The Canberra Times.
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