Subject: Gusmao 'paid Reinado's bill'
Claim that President paid major's hotel bill
September 12, 2006
ALFREDO Reinado, the East Timorese army deserter whose actions ultimately led to the ousting of prime minister Mari Alkatiri, has allegedly received financial help from the country's President.
There are claims that the office of President Xanana Gusmao, a long-term rival of Dr Alkatiri, paid an outstanding hotel bill on behalf of Major Reinado while the rebel leader was on the run earlier this year. The bill covered the six weeks Major Reinado spent at an isolated, colonial-era mountaintop lodge called the Poussada, outside the coffee-growing town of Maubisse, 75km southeast of Dili.
Staff at the hotel, including assistant manager Julio da Costa, claim the bill was paid by the office of the President.
And Major Reinado, although sceptical of claims the bill was paid by Mr Gusmao, said he could not meet the entire account and he had heard reports it was picked up by the President or his Australian-born wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmao.
The claims, denied by Mr Gusmao's office, raise further questions about the coup-like strike by army officers that ultimately helped the President drive Dr Alkatiri out of office in late June this year. Angered by what he believed was heavy-handed treatment by Dr Alkatiri and his former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, in quelling a political protest that left six killed, Major Reinado and 20 other supporters, mostly military police under his command, deserted for the hills.
While a deserter, Major Reinado remained loyal to his commander-in-chief, with Mr Gusmao issuing an order, seen by The Australian, for him and his group to initially base themselves in Aileu, 50km southeast of the capital. But following escalating violence in Dili, Major Reinado moved deeper into the sanctuary of East Timor's mountains, establishing a base at the Poussada.
During the peak of the political crisis in June, Major Reinado's staunch anti-government rhetoric and actions provided a rallying point for anti-Alkatiri forces.
When Australian troops were deployed to the troubled nation, Special Air Service operatives went to the hotel to watch him.
Major Reinado spent six weeks at the Poussada but he moved out without settling his account, accumulating at a rate of $US16.80 per day per room. There was also a modest food and beverage bill, although Major Reinado had a preference for fresh fish from a hatchery pond about 20km away. According to Poussada staff, Major Reinado's bill was paid by by the President. Mr da Costa, the 32-year-old assistant manager, was clear about this when questioned by The Australian last Tuesday. But within 24 hours, he was less certain. During that time, he had also been spoken to by his boss, lodge manager Maria-Isabel Benevides, whose suspicions had been aroused by the probing questions of her only two guests that night.
The presidential payment is not confirmed by a receipt, although on Tuesday night, the hotel's accounting records, comprising several tatty invoice books scattered loosely on the office desk, had been rearranged and tidied up as if suddenly inspected.
Asked whether the payment claims were true, Mr Gusmao's chief-of-staff, Agio Pereira, said: "No, I don't think so. The President does not have enough money to pay his own police."
Mr Pereira said Mr Gusmao was unhappy about Major Reinado staying at the Poussada because "it was a private business". Major Reinado said he paid some of the bill but not enough to settle the entire account for himself and his armed colleagues.
September 12, 2006
The theory that Gusmao supports Reinado doesn't wash
Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury, Director, Masters of International and Community Development School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University writes:
A report that East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao paid the hotel bill for escaped rebel Major Alfredo Reinado is consistent with Gusmao's attempts to rein in the conflict the had threatened civil war in East Timor earlier this year.
Gusmao paid the hotel bill as part of his request to Reinado that Reinado stay in one location, to ensure there was no further conflict. In the circumstances of that time, that arrangement was key to limiting the then escalating conflict between factions in the military and police.
The inference that Gusmao supported or otherwise had links with Reinado remain unsubstantiated and inconsistent with Gusmao's public position on the conflict at that time. Such allegations, though, continue to be beaten up by misguided activists and journalists who appear to believe that support for East Timor means support for Fretilin means support for Alkatiri. This logic, though, does not follow.
Similarly, the inference that there was a link between the leader of the Democratic Party, Fernando de Araujo, and former pro-Indonesia militia leaders also remains unsubstantiated, and strongly denied by de Araujo, who spent eight years in Indonesian jails for his leading role in opposing the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
It appears that, as with allegations against Gusmao, Alkatiri supporters are having difficulty with coming to terms with the fact that he was genuinely, widely and increasingly unpopular, even in his own party, Fretilin, made a number of poor decisions, and was ultimately encouraged to resign from office on that basis.
It is a pity that journalists who have otherwise reported honestly and fearlessly in the past have so transparently allowed their personal preferences and prejudices to color their reporting on East Timor's recent troubles, confirming the old adage that one should never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.