Subject: Timor minister equipped police as private army

Sydney Morining Herald

Timor minister equipped police as private army

Hamish McDonald Asia-Pacific Editor in Dili June 19, 2006

NEW details have emerged about an East Timorese Government minister's efforts to turn police into a private army for the ruling Fretilin party and arm civilian hit squads to cow voters and rivals before next year's elections.

The former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, arranged to secretly import high-powered weapons for the East Timor National Police, who are responsible to the Interior Ministry, on a visit to Kuwait with the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, about two years ago, the Herald has been told. "These were not police weapons. This was serious military hardware," a well-placed source said.

The Herald has also been given a copy of an invoice showing Mr Lobato imported a massive quantity of ammunition for assault rifles at the end of 2004. A group of about 30 men in the coastal town of Liquica have displayed about 20 automatic assault rifles of the sort held by police, claiming they were supplied the weapons by Mr Lobato and Mr Alkatiri to intimidate and kill Fretilin's political rivals.

In a move that might lead to Mr Alkatiri's dismissal under constitutional emergency powers, the President, Xanana Gusmao, is sending a key ally, the Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, to Liquica today to meet Reilos Vicente, the leader of the armed group.

Mr Ramos Horta said yesterday evidence of arms distribution - "that might breach the very principles enshrined in our constitution" - could induce the President to open an inquiry against ministers.

"What is important is, we try to collect the weapons, disarming people who are carrying them through dialogue, then we move to the next step, find out who gave weapons to them," Mr Ramos Horta said. If Mr Alkatiri is cited, this would almost certainly force him to resign or step aside from his office.

East Timor observers believe Mr Lobato was preparing a show of force to intimidate voters in April's parliamentary elections, against a background of disappointment with the Government's failure to deliver the prosperity many expected after independence. Mr Lobato was dismissed three weeks ago at the height of the country's security crisis but remains powerful as Fretilin's deputy party chief.

The ammunition order shown to the Herald will firm suspicions that Mr Lobato was trying to build the 3500-member police force as a counter to the 1800-member army. The army was built on the guerilla force Falintil, which fought the Indonesians and which Mr Gusmao, its former leader, detached from Fretilin.

The invoice, made in December 2004, shows Mr Lobato approved the $US107,940 purchase of 257,000 rounds of 5.56mm assault rifle ammunition from Cavalo Bravo, a company owned and run by Bader Alkatiri, a brother of the Prime Minister. A certificate of registration for Cavalo Bravo shows it was set up to import military and police equipment, including heavy and light arms, munitions, grenades, tanks, helicopters, boats and supplies. Bader Alkatiri said Cavalo Bravo was not a monopoly, but mainly focused on military supplies. "But I didn't import weapons, only ammunition," he said.

Mr Lobato's efforts to build police firepower started as the former United Nations interim administration handed over to the Fretilin government at independence in May 2002.

Filipe Sousa-Santos, then representing a Danish trading firm, was involved in a UN-authorised importation of a small number of automatic weapons from the Belgian arms manufacturer FN Herstal. The order comprised 129 portable light machine-guns for the army, plus 64 FNC assault rifles and seven F-2000 automatic rifles for the police.

The police imported 3500 to 4000 Glock pistols as sidearms, and were given 200 Steyr automatic rifles by Malaysia.

It was the F-2000 guns that raised eyebrows. The most powerful weapon of its size, it has a high rate of fire and good accuracy. "This is what you would want to have if you were going to give the army a go," Mr Sousa-Santos said.

The order was vetted by Australian and American intelligence agents, and queried by Belgium, but allowed when the police said the weapons would be used to patrol the then tense Indonesian border, a police responsibility.

"Then FN Herstal started to see the weapons were not being used for what they were supposed to," Mr Sousa-Santos said. "People started to see them in the hands of ministerial bodyguards and the rapid reaction police unit."

Other reports say the police gained 20 of the F-2000s, but Mr Sousa-Santos believes these could only have come second-hand from other governments, as his firm retained exclusive rights with FN Herstal.

An Australian Federal Police official said yesterday 509 firearms had been collected from civilians since peacekeepers began arriving on May 25, but it was not clear how many more there were.


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