Subject: AU: Rebel chief holds East Timor peace talks

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REBEL MAJOR UPBEAT AFTER MEETING ARMY CHIEF

Rebel chief holds East Timor peace talks

Ashleigh Wilson

December 22, 2006

EAST Timor rebel leader Alfredo Reinado held reconciliation talks with the nation's defence chief yesterday in an attempt to come up with a peaceful solution to the crisis that has gripped the country for the past eight months.

In his first public appearance since he escaped from a Dili prison in August, Major Reinado was flown by helicopter from his hideout by Australian peacekeepers to meet Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak.

"I want the freedom to find a solution" to the crisis in East Timor, Major Reinado said after the meeting.

An uneasy calm remains in place in Dili after Australian and international troops were called in to restore order in East Timor following an outbreak of violence and political instability in April.

At least 30 people died in the fighting and about 150,000 were forced to flee from their homes.

Major Reinado later led a mass escape from Dili's prison with 56 other inmates as he awaited trial on murder and weapons charges. The head of the Australian forces in East Timor, Brigadier Mal Rerden, yesterday defended his role in arranging the meeting between Major Reinado and Brigadier Ruak.

He said the East Timorese Government had decided to "pursue a path of negotiation" with Major Reinado, who went back into hiding after the peace talks were over.

"The Government of Timor Leste requested the international security forces to provide security and transport support for this meeting," Brigadier Rerden said.

"And we have done that to provide an opportunity for apeaceful solution to this situation."

In October, amid concerns over gang violence and anti-Australian sentiments on the streets of Dili, Brigadier Ruak called for an independent investigation into claims that Australian troops were taking sides in the island conflict.

During a visit to East Timor this week, Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty predicted that it would take up to five years before international troops handed control to local authorities.

Brigadier Rerden said yesterday that negotiations between the East Timorese Government and Major Reinado would take "some time".

"The important thing is that there is dialogue, and there is a genuine attempt on both sides to find a peaceful solution to the situation," he said.

"This is not the time for violence, and this is the time for people and the Government tofind peaceful resolutions to the crises.

"The security situation in Dili and in the districts is relatively calm and is under control, and there is no threat from any group to the overall security situation."

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EAST TIMOR: REBEL MAJOR UPBEAT AFTER MEETING ARMY CHIEF

Dili, 21 Dec. (AKI) - East Timor rebel Major Alfredo Reinado Alves met Army Chief Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak for 30 minutes, in a closed door meeting held at the army headquarter, in Tacitolu Dili, early on Thursday. "The meeting was held in a good spirit. It is a good sign and it marks the beginning of the spirit of reconciliation within the army," Reinado told reporters after the meeting.

Reinado showed optimism for the future and said that his presence in Dili shows his willingness to solve the problem and even face justice. "I am not a coward. I am a gentleman," he said.

"Therefore I am here today and I have met with my commander in order to solve our differences. Now I am going, but one day I will be back and face justice for my case as I stated repeatedly," he added.

"I have never run away from justice because I am fighting for justice," he underlined.

After the meeting with Ruak, Reinado and his associates were immediately transported back to the eastern district of Suai by an Australian Blackhawk helicopter.

At the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste [UNMIT] weekly press briefing, International Force Commander in East Timor, Brigadier Malcolm Rerden, confirmed his support for the talks, warning they will take time.

"We have provided security and transportation to support the talks, as requested by the East Timor government. The important thing is that there is a genuine attempt on both sides to find a solution. This is not the time for violence, this is the time to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis," he said on Thursday in Dili.

However, at the same press conference, UNMIT administrator, Atul Khare, said that the meeting between Reinado and Ruak does not mean the end of the judicial proceedings against Reinado.

"The establishment of justice is an essential precondition for national reconciliation and I hope that the effort of the government, assisted in this case by the international security forces, would produce such a result," Atul Khare said.

Major Reinado abandoned the army on 4 May 2006 to join approximately 600 former soldiers who had been fired in March 2006 after complaining of ethnic discrimination over promotions.

The sacking sparked a nationwide clashes in a crisis that left 37 people dead, forced 155,000 to flee their homes, brought down the government of former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, and resulted in Australia-led peacekeeping troops being deployed to the tiny southeast Asian nation..

Arrested for his role in the violence, Reinado escaped from prison on 30 August. Prime minister Jose Ramon Horta has repeatedly stated that he wants to solve the "Reinado issue" peacefully.

(Fsc/Ner/Aki)

Dec-21-06 09:22


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