Subject: Former East Timorese leader says foreigners plotted coup against him

Former East Timorese leader says foreigners plotted coup against him

Former East Timorese leader says foreigners plotted coup against him

CANBERRA, August 30 (AP) - Former East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said in an Australian television interview that unidentified foreigners had approached army commanders in a failed bid to organize a coup against him.

He also said in the interview, aired Wednesday by public broadcaster SBS, that Australian Prime Minister John Howard had pressured him to step down.

Alkatiri was forced to quit in June over allegations that he had recruited a secret hit squad to target his political opponents. He has denied the allegations.

He had also been under intense political pressure for weeks because his decision to dismiss 600 rebellious soldiers triggered a wave of violence in the capital, Dili, that killed at least 30 people and forced 150,000 to flee their homes.

Alkatiri told SBS that "foreign nationals" tried to organize a coup against him because he was "too independent" and threatened Australian interests in oil and gas fields in the seabed between the two countries.

"I was informed by the commanders of the (East Timorese) army of the situation," Alkatiri told SBS.

"They (the army chiefs) were approached by some Timorese and some foreign nationals but I was fully aware and confident in the command of the army that I didn't think it was an issue that could worry me and it was nothing," he added.

Alkatiri said the commanders were not certain of the foreigners' nationalities, but they were either Australian or American.

Asked if he had any evidence that Australia was involved in the alleged coup attempt, he said he did not.

"Evidence? No. But the only prime minister in the world that was really 'advising me' -- quote, unquote -- to step down was the prime minister of Australia during ... these difficult days," Alkatiri said.

Howard was not immediately available for comment.

Howard had blamed a failure of leadership in East Timor for the worst violence the country had experienced since the bloody aftermath of its 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.

But Howard was always careful not to publicly single out Alkatiri for criticism, saying the political crisis was a matter for the East Timorese to resolve.

Alkatiri has long complained of foreign interests attempting to destabilize his leadership but has never before suggested alleged Australian involvement in a plot to violently overthrow him.


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