Subject: AGE: Timor's top peacekeeper meets rebel in secret

The Age

Timor's top peacekeeper meets rebel in secret

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin

October 20, 2006

MICK Slater, the commander of Australia's peacekeeping force in Dili, has revealed that he could not arrest East Timor's most wanted fugitive, Alfredo Reinado, during a secret meeting in the mountains last week because he was outnumbered.

"Me unarmed. Him surrounded by 11 heavily armed thugs. Call me a coward … it wasn't a smart thing to do," Brigadier Slater said yesterday. He confirmed that he and two East Timorese, one of them a Government official, had met the Australian-trained Major Reinado after agreeing to go unarmed to a rendezvous point in the country's south.

He said that Major Reinado, who led a mass escape from Dili's main jail in August, "proved yet again he is an intelligent man who is doing some stupid and foolish things".

"He claims that he is ready to come back to face justice and clear his name, but he insists he won't do that until everyone else he believes should face justice has done so," Brigadier Slater said.

A United Nations inquiry released this week in Dili blamed Major Reinado for firing the first shots in a bloody confrontation that plunged East Timor into crisis in May. It recommended that he and at least nine of his men face prosecution over a gun battle in which five people died.

Brigadier Slater said that support for Major Reinado had withered since his escape.

"Eventually he will come in," he said. "It will be either of his own free will or he will be forced in … it would be far better if he comes in voluntarily."

Major Reinado has criticised the credibility of the UN inquiry's findings, saying that one of his men, who was recommended for prosecution, was killed during the gun battle.

Brigadier Slater, who commands almost 1000 Australian troops deployed in Dili, said fears that the inquiry's findings might spark new unrest had proven to be unfounded.

"People are responsibly accepting the report and thinking through its implications," he said.

The inquiry recommended that scores of police, soldiers and civilians be prosecuted over violence that erupted in Dili, forcing tens of thousands of people into squalid refugee camps.

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