Subject: UN forces sack Timor adviser Roque Rodrigues

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent | June 12, 2008

CONTROVERSIAL former East Timorese defence minister Roque Rodriguez is to be dismissed from his role as security consultant to President Jose Ramos Horta, after a flurry of high-level cables between Dili and New York over the UN appointment.

The sacking comes as senior security analysts in the country warn of a dangerous lurch back towards anarchy, even as the UN prepares for the "expedited" withdrawal of its international police force.

Mr Rodriguez, implicated in the weapons distribution scandal that led to former interior minister Rogerio Lobato being jailed for seven years last year, signed a substantial deal several weeks ago, understood to have been for up to 12 months, to help advise on security sector reform.

This was despite a commission of inquiry in 2006 recommending that he face criminal charges over the violence earlier that year, in which dozens died.

His appointment to the post is understood to have been on the recommendations of Mr Ramos Horta, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and both men's bitter enemy, deposed Fretilin party prime minister Mari Alkatiri.

The decision to sack Mr Rodriguez, finally taken this week by Atul Khare, the Indian diplomat in charge of the UN's East Timor mission, came after strong criticism of his appointment from within and outside the country. It included sharp high-level UN criticism of the appointment.

In a face-saving measure, the sacking is being presented as an opportunity for Mr Rodriguez to resign: "Mr Khare has discussed the matter with President Ramos Horta. I can confirm that appropriate steps are being taken by Roque Rodriguez to terminate the contract, keeping in view the best interests of the United Nations," UN spokeswoman Allison Cooper told The Australian yesterday.

A surprised spokeswoman for Mr Ramos Horta denied any knowledge of the deal yesterday.

Senior security sources say tensions are rapidly mounting between the fractured country's police and military - the very reason for much of the UN's original beefed-up role after the 2006 security crisis - since the February 11 assassination attempts on Mr Gusmao and Mr Ramos Horta.

They say the country's army, the F-FDTL, under the control of former guerilla hero Taur Matan Ruak, has virtually taken over the streets of the capital, Dili.

The F-FDTL has recently been involved in stand-offs with foreign forces including UN police, often involving alcohol, according to the sources.

Although the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force has tended to have a good relationship with the local military, the UN security forces often fare poorly at the hands F-FDTL personnel.

In a recent incident, an F-FDTL detail was involved in a fracas with Portuguese National Guard (GNR) troops outside a Dili nightclub mostly frequented by international workers, including Australians.

Weapons were drawn and reinforcements called on both sides, with one senior source saying it was only due to the GNR troops backing down that bloodshed was avoided.

Resentment in the ranks of the F-FDTL over their virtual emasculation under the terms of the UN's mission to East Timor has led to regular overflows of tension, observers say.

The national police, which was supposed to be given intensive training programs by the UN force, including around 50 Australian federal police, now holds little power and largely comes under General Taur's control.

This is despite the fact it was unresolved conflict between the two East Timorese security forces - the army and police - that led to the killing of nine police officers in May 2006 by serving military members.

Observers worry that with a UN plan under way to bring forward the end of its policing mission in the country, the resentments could explode. If so, about 80 new Australian police will be in the firing line, after the more than $50 million two-year bilateral commitment that was announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan in the federal budget.

Critics also point to the sometimes erratic behaviour of Mr Ramos Horta, including his pardoning and reduction of sentences for East Timorese convicts, including Mr Lobato.

 


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