|Subject: AP: East Timorese renegade leader
warns that disarming rebels won't solve nation's crisis
East Timorese renegade leader warns that disarming rebels won't solve nation's crisis
06/16/2006 11:37:35 AM EDT
MAUBISSE, East Timor_A renegade East Timorese military commander and about 30 of his followers turned in their weapons at the request of the president Friday, but warned that peace won't last if Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri remains in power.
Lt. Cmdr. Alfredo Reinado, leader of a campaign to oust Alkatiri, handed over his M-16 assault rifle and six magazines of ammunition to Australian peacekeepers at a century-old Portuguese villa on a mountaintop overlooking Dili where he and his rebel troops have been based for more than a month.
Reinado and his supporters, dressed in camouflage fatigues, laid down 12 automatic rifles, four pistols and an unknown amount of ammunition to start a disarmament process seen as vital to ending the recent violence that has threatened to plunge the fledgling nation into civil war.
Beforehand, there was an atmosphere of celebration on the cloud-cloaked mountaintop as the rebel soldiers laughed and shared miniature bottles of aged whisky on a verandah. Reinado played with his tiny puppy, named Black.
But later, Reinado minimized the significance of the disarmament in finding a lasting solution to East Timor's current crisis.
"That doesn't mean that I hand over my rifle, I solve the problem," he told reporters in the villa near the village of Maubisse, referring to a need for a political solution.
He said peace and justice cannot be achieved in East Timor while Alkatiri remains in power.
Alkatiri, whose ruling party is likely to win elections next year and who was re-elected party leader last month, has refused to go unless he is voted out of office.
"It's better for him to go than for someone to force him to go," Reinado said, although he insisted that he would not force the prime minister out.
Reinado was one of 600 soldiers fired by Alkatiri in March in a move that triggered armed conflict within the military ranks and overflowed into mob violence in Dili.
More than 30 people have died and the U.N. refugee agency estimates nearly 150,000 have fled their homes, but peacekeepers from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore have managed to maintain relative peace in Dili's streets this week.
Friday's surrender of weapons was secured by President Xanana Gusmao, who telephoned Reinado on Thursday night and promised to meet him in person soon to discuss the crisis. Reinado and his group of around 30 troops agreed to turn in their weapons after a written order from Gusmao was delivered by the president's envoy.
Reinado argues that only the president, a critic of Alkatiri, has power under the Constitution to fire him. Gusmao's office on Friday acknowledged that Reinado was still part of the national defense force and that Alkatiri's dismissal of him had been overruled.
It is hoped that disarming the rebel soldiers, many of whom fled to the hills with weapons, will create an environment for talks to resolve the conflict.
Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment. In Dili, U.N. special representative Sukehiro Hasegawa called the weapons handover a "first step in the right direction."
Earlier, Army Brig. Mick Slater, commander of the Australian-led forces charged with restoring order to East Timor, said Reinado's men would remain protected by Australian troops while they remained based in Maubisse, 75 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) north of the capital.
While the violence has ebbed since foreign peacekeepers arrived just over two weeks ago, many in the camps remain too scared to return to their neighborhoods where roaming gangs set houses on fire and attacked rivals.
Associated Press writers Tanalee Smith and Guido Gulliart contributed to this report from Dili.
PM - East Timor rebels agree to surrender weapons
[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1665117.htm]
PM - Friday, 16 June , 2006 18:10:00
Reporter: Anne Barker
MARK COLVIN: Rebel military officers in East Timor have agreed to an order from the President, Xanana Gusmao, to surrender their weapons to Australian soldiers.
It's a significant breakthrough in a crisis that erupted nearly a month ago.
Separate rebel factions at Maubisse, south of Dili, and Gleno to the west, are believed already to have begun disarming.
Hundreds of ex-soldiers and renegade military police appear to have been staked out in the hills for weeks, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
As Anne Barker reports, the breakthrough is another step towards restoring East Timor to something resembling normality.
ANNE BARKER: As the crow flies, Maubisse is less than a 100 kilometres from Dili, but the hairpin bends, high altitude and shocking roads mean this mountain village is several hours away by car, and relatively isolated from the capital.
It's here at Maubisse that one group of rebel forces has been staked out for weeks. Major Alfredo Reinado and about 20 men deserted their posts last month, complete with their weapons; vowing they'd never come down until the Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned over his handling of the country's recent unrest.
Now it appears their fight has been all but lost.
MICK SLATER: I expect that the first of those weapons will start to be handed in today. I think, however, it will take us several days before we actually get all of the weapons in.
ANNE BARKER: In the past 24 hours, Australian forces, under Brigadier Mick Slater, have secured an agreement for the different rebel factions to begin surrendering their weapons.
It was the President Xanana Gusmao who brokered the deal and issued the order for the rebels to disarm. And as the only leader the rebels trust, the President's command is as good as obeyed.
Brigadier Mick Slater.
MICK SLATER: They have been very cooperative up until now, and there is no indication that they will not comply with handing in the weapons. I don't think though that we are going to get all the weapons in one hit, I think that will happen over the next few days to a week.
There are so many weapons in this country though; I don't think that in my lifetime we will get all of the guns handed in. There will be guns hidden in the hills for many, many years to come.
ANNE BARKER: The weapons surrender is an important step towards calming the community fear that has driven most of Dili's population out of their homes in recent weeks and into refugee camps.
But it's also a sign that the campaign to remove the Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has failed.
Just last weekend Alfredo Reinado and his supporters were demanding President Gusmao suspended East Timor's constitution to allow him to seize power. But two days ago the President all but ruled out that option, telling the National Parliament he would uphold his constitution until the end of his term.
The rebels' decision to disarm shows that like it or not, they've accepted President Gusmao's decision.
Brigadier Slater says Australian troops will guarantee the rebels' safety once they've disarmed.
MICK SLATER: The situation they'll find themselves in, once they hand their weapons in, is that provided they stay in the area of Maubisse or Gleno, then they'll receive the full protection of the international forces to make sure that no one is aggressive towards them.
ANNE BARKER: Do you think those men will be in any danger once they handed their weapons in?
MICK SLATER: This whole situation is inherently dangerous to one degree or another, for everybody in the country.
I'm confident that we'll be able to provide sufficient security for those individuals, provided they stay in Maubisse of Gleno, that they will not be under direct threat.
ANNE BARKER: Do you expect they'll face any retribution or any charges even, after they've handed their weapons in?
MICK SLATER: That's a question I really can't answer. We are about providing security to enable the due process to take place. What the Timorese Government and the Timorese military, depending on which group you target your question towards, it's really up to the Government and to the Defence Department here to decide what actions they take.
MARK COLVIN: Brigadier Mick Slater with Anne Barker.