Subject: SMH: Reconciliation nearer with Gusmao meeting

Sydney Morning Herald July 9, 2001

Reconciliation nearer with Gusmao meeting

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Timor

East Timor's reconciliation process took a big step forward at the weekend after a meeting between the independence figure Mr Xanana Gusmao and the head of the Mahidi militia group, Cancio Lopes de Carvalho.

United Nations officials in Dili described the two-hour meeting, under heavy security at the Salele border checkpoint in south-western Suai, as "very positive and very peaceful".

Lopes de Carvalho is implicated in a host of serious crimes committed throughout 1999 and after the referendum on August 30 for self-determination.

Earlier this year, he promised to return to East Timor with 10,000 refugee followers and hand himself over to face justice.

A fortnight ago, Mr Gusmao said he was hopeful that Lopes de Carvalho and his supporters would return to East Timor as early as this month.

The Ainaro-based Mahidi (Life or Death Integration) militia was one of the worst violators of human rights in East Timor and one of the first to receive arms from the Indonesian military.

Human rights groups say Lopes de Carvalho had close ties with the former East Timor military commander Brigadier-General Tono Suratman, then a colonel based in Dili.

Ainaro town, once a thriving municipal seat at the base of the southern highlands, was almost destroyed by the retreating Mahidi militia after the announcement of the independence victory on September 4, 1999.

Mr Gusmao has previously met the militia commander in chief, Joao Tavares, and members of the UNTAS pro-integration group based in Kupang.

It is the first time Mr Gusmao has met Lopes de Carvalho, who arrived at the border accompanied by a small group of supporters, his two brothers, Nemesio and Francisco, and his father, Mateus.

Mr Gusmao is a strong supporter of community-based reconciliation among East Timorese who fought to end 24 years of Indonesian rule and those who supported the losing battle to retain it.

Six Indonesian police commanders from West Timor are expected to arrive in Dili today to begin investigations into the death of a New Zealand peacekeeper, Private Leonard Manning, shot dead in a clash with militias last year.

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