Subject: AGE: Diggers blockade Timor rebels
Diggers blockade Timor rebels
Lindsay Murdoch, Dili March 1, 2007
AUSTRALIAN soldiers have blockaded a town in East Timor's central mountains, trapping rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and up to 150 heavily armed men who are refusing to surrender.
Reinado angrily told The Age by telephone that he would shoot any soldier he sees. "Tell the Australian troops to stick surrender up their arse," he said.
Reinado's defiant stand has prompted fears of civil war after he was joined in the town of Same by Gastao Salsinha, the commander of 600 mutineering soldiers sacked from East Timor's army last year.
Salsinha told a Timorese journalist that he decided to bring 100 of his men to join Reinado because "I'm still in the military and I have a job to do".
Reinado and his men have a large cache of sophisticated weapons, including at least six rocket launchers of the type used by the Australian army, residents of the town say.
Reinado, a cult hero wanted for murder and rebellion, said the men with him and opposition MP Leonadro Isaac were "all here ready to share a coffin".
Reinado, whose wife lives in Perth, told The Age: "Let my family in Australia know that I love them so much."
The presence of Mr Isaac and an unknown number of civilians in Same makes it difficult for Australian soldiers dug in at the town's edge to attack Reinado and his men.
The commander of the Australian-led force in East Timor, Mal Rerden, demanded on Tuesday that Reinado and his men surrender unconditionally after President Xanana Gusmao ordered that the Australian-trained former head of East Timor's military police be hunted down.
Mr Gusmao made the order after Reinado led raids on several police border posts last Sunday, seizing 25 high-powered weapons and a large quantity of ammunition.
The raids shocked the Government in Dili because officials had been negotiating a deal under which Reinado would hand over his weapons and testify at a special hearing about his role in violence in Dili last year.
East Timor's Government sent a letter to Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday authorising the Australian troops in East Timor to use lethal force to capture Reinado, who has been on the run since leading a mass escape from Dili's main jail in August.
East Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta told The Age yesterday that Australia had made it clear that if East Timor requested more troops to help secure the country ahead of elections, then they would be sent. Australia has 800 soldiers in East Timor, most based in Dili where security forces have been unable to stop street gang violence.
Mr Isaac, whose party has urged Reinado to stand in presidential elections due on April 9, told journalists yesterday that the word surrender was not in Reinado's vocabulary.
Asked what he thought would happen if the rebels were attacked, he said: "Civil war."
About 100 of the residents of Same, the centre of a coffee-growing district, have fled into the bush since the Australians blockaded the town.
Reinado, on a mobile telephone in the town's centre, said an Australian army officer had called to demand his surrender.
Reinado said he had asked the officer if he had authorisation from the country's prosecutor-general to arrest him. When he got no reply, he said he "rejected the offer".
A Government source said Reinado had asked to resume negotiations to surrender but the request was bluntly refused.
International forces close in on E.Timor rebel leader
Wednesday February 28, 01:33 PM
DILI (AFP) - The international security force in East Timor have begun closing in on wanted rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado's hideout with tanks and helicopters, a witness with the renegade soldier said Wednesday.
"Australian troops are closing in with tanks and breaking barricades," lawmaker Leandro Isaac told AFP by telephone.
"They also use Black Hawks," he said, referring to a type of military helicopter. "The situation now is tense."
Isaac said the rebel leader, who was (Advertisement) Click Here! surrounded by the security force Tuesday in an area in Same, about 50 kilometres (25 miles) south of the capital Dili, was waiting for the troops.
"If they come in with guns then he will also use guns to defend independence of the country," Isaac said. "He said it is better to die than be Australian slaves."
Access to Same has reportedly been restricted.
East Timor's Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta met with Brigadier General Mal Rerden, the commander of the international security force, earlier Wednesday but they refused to comment to journalists.
President Xanana Gusmao has accused Reinado of stealing 25 firearms Sunday from police posts on the border with neighbouring Indonesia and has given the security force the green light to capture him.
But Reinado, who has been partly blamed for deadly civil unrest last year that prompted the dispatch of international troops, said he took the weapons to stop them being misused by East Timor's ruling Fretilin party, a report said.
"I was only borrowing them to safeguard them from the evil intentions of the Fretilin leaders, who want to use those weapons for their political interests," Reinado was quoted by the Suara Timor Lorosae newspaper as saying.
The government had been trying to negotiate with Reinado, but appears to have lost patience with him.
Reinado has been a thorn in the side of the government in East Timor, one of the world's newest independent nations, which was occupied by neighbouring Indonesia between 1975 and 1999.
He was arrested in August on charges of weapons possession despite promising that his group had surrendered all their arms to the international peacekeeping force. He soon escaped from jail with more than 50 other inmates.
Reinado also led a band of breakaway soldiers last year in April and May when battles between security factions degenerated into rampant gang violence in the streets.
Around 37 people were killed and more than 150,000 fled their homes. The government then asked for international help and Australian-led peacekeepers were dispatched.
Back to February menu