Subject: SMH: Fragile peace may shatter if fugitive rebels join forces
September 2, 2006
Fragile peace may shatter if fugitive rebels join forces
Lindsay Murdoch in Dili September 2, 2006
AUSTRALIAN security forces hunting Alfredo Reinado, who led a mass escape from Dili's jail this week, should know he has XXX tattooed on the back of his neck.
Reinado likens himself to Xander Cage, the extreme athlete and fearless adrenaline junkie in the 2002 movie XXX. "I don't care if I die tomorrow," Reinado said after he fired the first shots in a bloody revolt that plunged East Timor into crisis in May.
Three months after those shots rang out on the hillside above the jail from which Reinado escaped on Wednesday, East Timor's political factions are plotting their next moves in a bitter power struggle that could erupt again into violence, a number of well-informed figures said in Dili this week.
The Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, concedes wearily that the political problems that plunged the country into crisis in April, May and June are unsolved.
Speaking in his thatched villa overlooking Dili's harbour, he says it is still possible for the country to hold violence-free elections, due in April next year, but only through "strong international assistance and the role of the church and other leaders".
"Obviously, there is no guarantee," Mr Ramos Horta says.
Reinado's escape with 56 others came only days after Vincente da Concecao, a former guerilla fighter who likes to be called "Commander Railos", fled to the western mountains as the Office of Prosecutor-General was about to issue a warrant for his arrest for possession of illegal weapons.
Railos's allegation that he set up a hit squad to eliminate political opponents of the then prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, led to the latter being forced from office. The Opposition Leader, Mario Carrascalao, said the case of Railos, whom he knows well, had been mishandled by the Government: "Railos feels frustrated. He provided information to help solve the problem but they were going to arrest him."
The possibility that Reinado and Railos and their men could combine to form a renegade force is a nightmare for the commanders of foreign troops and police in Dili, who are struggling to control violence but cannot convince 70,000 people in makeshift refugee camps that is safe for them to return to their homes.
Like Xander Cage, whose mission was to save the world, Reinado apparently wants to save East Timor. Within hours of his escape he was circulating a letter urging East Timorese to rise up in a people-power revolution.
His escape shattered the illusion that hundreds of foreign police and troops in Dili have brought peace to the tiny half-island nation of just over a million mostly impoverished people.
The UN Security Council has agreed to send to Dili 1608 international police, 34 military liaison officers and about 500 civilian personnel, who will complement foreign troops already in Dili, including 1500 Australians.
But a Western analyst in Dili said the "foreigners are just keeping protagonists apart". The analyst added: "The bad blood, grudges and dirty politics are still there, just below the surface."
Fretilin, the ruling party, which has 55 of the 86 seats in the parliament, appears to be fracturing as the combative and unpopular Mr Alkatiri vows publicly to lead it to an "unimaginable" election victory.
Security forces fear a violent backlash from Mr Alkatiri's enemies if the Office of Prosecutor-General fails to charge him over Railos's allegations. They also fear a backlash from elements within Fretilin if Mr Alkatiri is charged.
"It's a no-win situation regarding Alkatiri," the analyst said.
A youth worker, Jose Sousa-Santos, said gangs of unemployed youths responsible for sporadic violence were being manipulated for political and criminal purposes. "The kids are a very buyable commodity," said Mr Sousa-Santos, who has worked with Dili's youths for six years. Two rival martial-arts gangs each have more than 30,000 members spread throughout the country.
Some former police, said to be manipulating the gangs, are believed to have high-powered weapons looted from the armoury of the 3200-strong police force that disintegrated during the violence in May.
An American doctor who has worked in Dili since 1998, Dan Murphy, warns that the health of people in the refugee camps is deteriorating. "The people tell me that this is their most worrying and depressing time since they gained their independence," Dr Murphy said.
Celestinho da Costa-Alves manages a refugee camp near Dili's main wharf, whose 2682 residents from the east of the country are often attacked by gangs from the west. "Every time our people leave and try to return to their homes they are attacked," Mr da Costa-Alves said. "The Government has told us to leave here because there has been trouble, but where are we to go?"
Since Mr Ramos Horta took office two months ago, he has shaken up the country's lethargic bureaucracy, telling officials that heads will roll unless they improve efficiency. Business people say that permits are suddenly being issued in hours, rather than days, containers are moving quickly off the wharf and corruption appears to have been curbed.
Mr Ramos Horta makes surprise visits to government offices, refugee camps, charities, UN and non-government-organisations. He has steered a $US315 million ($412 million) budget through parliament, a record in a country where the annual income per capita is $US370 and 40 per cent of the population live in poverty.
He has emerged as the person many East Timorese see as their saviour at another terrible moment in their history, but he plays down a push from the US and some other countries for him to be the UN's next secretary-general, saying he feels committed to helping solve East Timor's problems.
"I would rather retire and take it easy on a beach somewhere," he says. "But it might be important for me to be here … I'm not saying that I am the best person, but I am one of the very, very few with the trust of the people."
Associated Press September 1, 2006
Clashes break out in E. Timor as troops hunt for escaped inmates
DILI (AP): Gangs armed with stones and machetes clashed in the East Timorese capital Friday, raising fresh security concerns following the recent escape from prison of a rebel leader and scores of other violent inmates.
Hospital officials said at least eight people were wounded in the unrest which broke out after a gang attacked a refugee camp in downtown Dili hotel with stones, witnesses said. International security forces arrived soon after to restore order.
East Timor descended into chaos in May amid fighting between factions in the newly independent country's security forces. Tens of thousands of people still live in temporary camps.
International peacekeepers have largely restored order and a new government has been installed, but sporadic gang fights have continued, mostly based on regional divisions exacerbated by the conflict.
Local and foreign security forces were searching for 57 inmates who escaped from a Dill prison on Wednesday, including renegade military leader Alfredo Reinado, blamed for some of the worst violence in May, and several of his followers.
Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta partly blamed the UN and neighboring Australia for the breakout, which has raised tensions in East Timor.
Australian forces currently head the peacekeeping force in East Timor.
In a telephone interview with Australia Broadcasting Corp. radio, he said the prison was under the control of East Timorese forces, but that Australian peacekeepers must accept some of theblame because they refused to boost security outside.
"I am personally just puzzled why, in spite of our repeated requests for static forces to be outside the prison, this was not done," Ramos-Horta said. "I presume the Australian forces, the UN, as experts in security, they thought it was not necessary."
"Had there been strong security outside, this could have been prevented," Ramos-Horta said.
Ramos-Horta also said it appeared the escaped inmates had accomplices inside the prison.
"Obviously there was a failure of the internal security but the internal security is not armed and obviously there has to be some complicity inside," he said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected Ramos-Horta's suggestion Australian troops were partly responsible for the escape.
"I am very concerned that these people escaped but I am quite certain the Australian Defense Force has done the right thing," Howard told reporters in Sydney.
Reinado was a leading member of the campaign to oust former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
A prison guard said Reinado told him before the breakout he would return to jail if Alkatiri was also imprisoned. Alkatiri is currently under investigation for allegations he provided guns to a hit squad tasked with killing his political opponents.
"Before Major Alfredo left the prison he told me that he would return when Alkatiri was in prison," prison guard Helio Watumisa Monteiro told The Associated Press. "We are the victims ofan unfair tribunal."
Authorities waited more than a month to arrest Reinado following the May violence even though he made no effort to hide and East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao has always refused to criticize his actions, leading some to question whether his rebellion was part of wider moves to get rid of Alkatiri.
Both Gusmao and Ramos-Horta also demanded Alkatiri step down.