Subject: SMH: Alkatiri Lashes Australia Over Bias

also: The Age: Digger sent home from East Timor for firing over crowd

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Alkatiri Lashes Australia Over Bias

by Lindsay Murdoch in Dili

EAST TIMOR'S deposed prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, last night lashed out at Australia, saying there was an attempt to demonise him in the media and that some government ministers and officials "don't like me".

Mr Alkatiri told the Herald he believes he was targeted in Australia because of his tough negotiations over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

"I have no doubt that the whole of the Australian media was trying to demonise me - that is the reality," Mr Alkatiri said in his first interview with an Australian journalist since he was forced to resign last week.

"Why? I have no doubt that some ministers and officers in Australia don't like me because I was known to them as a tough negotiator."

Mr Alkatiri said that Australia and East Timor could lose by his downfall because he was about to introduce into parliament a bill to ratify a $41 billion deal he had negotiated with Canberra to develop the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea, under which both countries would equally share royalties.

"Now everything is back on the table," he said.

Mr Alkatiri described his downfall as an "orchestrated plot".

Asked who he believes was behind it, he said he still has to do some work before accusing anyone. "I'm sure that one day it will all come out," he said.

Speaking for the first time about his political intentions, Mr Alkatiri declared that he would remain secretary-general of the Fretilin party and lead it into elections scheduled for next year. Fretilin holds the majority of seats in parliament and has by far the largest number of members throughout the country.

"Winning the election is my main task now," he said. "But this will be much more difficult because of the security situation. Fretilin members, particularly those in western parts of the country, are still being intimidated by armed men."

Mr Alkatiri said that unless the security situation improved "it may be difficult to arrange the elections".

Asked whether he could be re-appointed prime minister if Fretilin wins, he said: "That will be a decision for the party … I hope the party will not fforce me. Maybe it is better to have others to be prime minister … maybe what we havve to do is not think about the past and look forward."

Asked about widespread speculation that the Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta would be appointed to replace him within days, Mr Alkatiri said he could not comment. "Fretilin has put up three different packages … three diffeerent names," he said. "What is needed in this country now is reconciliation leading to the elections."

Mr Ramos Horta, the Foreign and Defence minister, is no longer a member of Fretilin but is a founding member of the party.

Under the constitution, Fretilin as the majority party has the right to nominate the prime minister but the nominee must be approved by the president. Mr Ramos Horta is a close ally of President Xanana Gusmao.

Mr Alkatiri declined to answer questions about allegations he helped form a hit squad to eliminate political rivals before the elections. He has denied any knowledge of the hit squads.

The country's former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, has claimed in court that Mr Alkatiri had "full knowledge" of the squad that was given high-powered weapons allegedly looted from the country's police armoury. Mr Lobato is under house arrest in Dili.

In a sign that some stability is returning to Dili, Mr Ramos Horta yesterday met Asian investors about a $100 million project to produce energy from green waste.


The Age (Melbourne)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Digger sent home from East Timor for firing over crowd

by Ben Doherty, Canberra

AN AUSTRALIAN soldier who fired shots over the heads of protesters at a pro-Mari Alkatiri rally in East Timor has become the sixth digger ordered home for a firearm offence.

The soldier, who cannot be identified, fired four rounds from his Minimi machine-gun above a crowd in Dili that was protesting in support of the deposed prime minister on June 30.

Witnesses said about 5000 people were gathered at the pro-Fretilin party rally on the Dili waterfront outside the Governor's palace when the shots were fired. The crowd scurried in fright, but nobody was injured.

Both deposed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmao spoke at the rally. It is believed the shots were fired as Mr Gusmao was speaking.

The soldier was formally charged with negligently discharging his weapon and faced a disciplinary hearing in Dili on Sunday, which ordered he be sent home for "retraining".

The Defence Department would not reveal the exact charges, nor the punishment.

"The incident has been investigated and disciplinary action has been taken against the soldier involved," the department said.

The soldier was part of a detachment providing security for the protesters.

"ADF personnel reassured the protesters that the situation was under control and that they were not under threat," the department said.

The soldier is the sixth Australian from the Joint Taskforce serving in East Timor to be sent home for a firearm offence, either a negligent or unauthorised discharge.

Details of those offences are not known.

Another soldier, an artillery officer known as "Gilly from Timor", was sent home last month for revealing details of his platoon's activities in an email sent to friends on a Defence account. Fifteen soldiers and one sailor have been returned for medical reasons.

Australia has nearly 2000 troops in East Timor, serving alongside Portuguese and New Zealand soldiers and police. Troops rushed to Dili last month after the sacking of nearly a third of the nation's army sparked rioting in and around Dili.

And political turmoil is continuing, with Mr Alkatiri resigning last week and likely to face criminal charges of sanctioning the arming of militia hit squads.

Meanwhile, gangs, many armed with machetes, remain a security threat in Dili.

Former Australian defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove has backed Australia's peace-keeping efforts in East Timor, saying military intervention was necessary to quell rioting.

General Cosgrove, who commanded the Australian-led intervention force into East Timor in 1999, said troops, rather than police, were needed on the ground.

"While the army would prefer that they weren't involved, of course they can do those sorts of jobs," he said.

"The immediate effect was to start to return confidence to the people not involved in street violence and to push the street gangs off the streets. Really, that was what was needed at that time."

He said Australia had an obligation to assist East Timor and other troubled countries in the region wherever possible.

----------------------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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