Subject: SMH: Hunt continues for East Timor's rebel leader
Sydney Morning Herald
Hunt continues for East Timor's rebel leader
Lindsay Murdoch in Dili
February 28, 2007
Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado has taunted Australian soldiers hunting him in East Timor's mountains, telling them he is not afraid to die.
"They can get my dead body but not my soul," said Major Reinado, who has threatened to kill Australians if they attack him and his group of more than 20 heavily armed men.
As Australian soldiers set-up roadblocks and surrounded Major Reinado's base yesterday, Australia's peacekeeping commander Mal Rerden called on him to surrender unconditionally.
"Reinado has one action open to him - that's to surrender and put himself before the justice system of Timor Leste (East Timor)," Brigadier Rerden said.
Brigadier Rerden had secretly sent scores of troops to the central Same district hours before Major Reinado learnt that president Xanana Gusmao had declared war on him in a televised address to the nation on Monday night.
Mr Gusmao declared that the government in Dili had cut all negotiations with Major Reinado and asked the Australian-led International Security Force to mount an operation to capture him after he and his men had raided several police border posts, seizing 25 high powered weapons and a large quantity of ammunition.
Yesterday, knowing he was surrounded with road access to his base blocked, Major Reinado told a journalist from the Timor Post newspaper that he would hand-over his weapons if he could reach a deal with East Timor's Proscutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro on charges of murder and rebellion. But Brigadier Rerden ruled out any further negotiations, saying Mr Gusmao made his declaration because of Major Reinado's own actions.
"He has carried out attacks which have jeopardised the security and safety of all the people of Timor Leste," Brigadier Rerden said.
The operation to capture Major Reinado is high risk for Australia's 800-strong soldier contingent in East Timor. Australian-trained Major Reinado and his men have a large cache of sophisticated weapons, including at least one rocket launcher of type used by the Australian army.
The group is holed up in rough terrain where Major Reinado grew up and where he has the support of the local population. For months Major Reinado, who fired the first shots in an attack on troops loyal to the government last May, has vowed to kill Australian soldiers if they attempt to capture him, saying he and his men, like them, are well trained.
"My promise is, whenever you bring the thousand (troops), I will take some with me," he said last month. Major Reinado has become a cult-hero figure throughout that country since he led a mass escape from Dili's main jail in August.
His death in an Australian-led operation would further inflame anti-Australian sentiment in Dili caused by an Australian soldier shooting dead two Timorese men during a disturbance at a refugee camp last Friday. Since then rock throwing street gangs have stepped up their attacks on vehicles being driven by foreigners in Dili, prompting the Australian Government to warn that Australians and Australian interests could be specifically targeted.
East Timor's ruling Fretilin party said yesterday that Major Reinado's attacks were an attempt to spread panic and stop presidential and general elections that are due by mid-year.
Fretilin's former prime minister Mari Alkatiri said in a statement that Major Reinado's arrest would not only improve the country's security situation but "also help to reveal the true causes of the crisis in Timor Leste and identify the people behind the crisis."
Back to February menu