Subject: AU: Police give up on East Timor's rebel major

The Australian

Police give up on East Timor's rebel major

By Mark Dodd

September 12, 2006 01:00am

AUSTRALIAN and UN police have conceded they lack the numbers to track down East Timorese rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who has been on the run after breaking out of a Dili prison almost two weeks ago.

The fugitive army major, interviewed by The Australian in a secret location, looked fit, healthy and not harassed by the law as he launched a scathing attack on a "corrupt" justice system.

He also took a swipe at the new interim Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, who he accused of spending too much time overseas and making promises he was unable to keep.

In his first face-to-face interview with a foreign journalist since escaping from Becora prison, Major Reinado called for the Catholic Church and President Xanana Gusmao to lead a national debate on ways to solve the political crisis.

Thumbing his nose at the attempts to recapture him, he said he was willing to negotiate with the Government about handing himself in, but not if it meant a return to prison. "I'm ready to face the tribunal, but when everything is fixed," he said.

The Australian found Major Reinado in the country's southern mountains after a week of protracted negotiations. This involved a series of calls to changing mobile numbers, text messages and the exchange of a secret password with one of Major Reinado's supporters at a rendezvous four hours drive over East Timor's main mountain range.

The police are now waiting on urgent reinforcements to help round up the rogue elements that remain a threat in the half-island state.

The Commissioner of UN police, Antero Lopes, said that extra numbers, which should start arriving next week, were needed to defeat a wall of silence created by family and friends of the rebels.

"We are getting more police and with more of police presence we can get a better result."

Australian Federal Police spokesman Tim Dodds conceded yesterday there were not enough police to comb wide areas of East Timor to track down the Australian-trained rebel leader, who escaped from Dili's Becora prison with 56 other inmates on August 30.

"I don't know anyone who knows exactly where he (Reinado) is. It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack," Mr Dodds said.

With about 120 AFP officers, Australia has one of the largest police deployments in East Timor but, like the 1000-strong military force, they are currently under national and not UN command.

Unlike the defence forces, the AFP will join the UN but negotiations are continuing between Canberra and UN headquarters in New York about their terms of engagement.

Major Reinado, 39, admitted he escaped in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and boasted that he waved to New Zealand soldiers as he left. But he said the UN and international security forces in East Timor should concentrate on catching the other criminals who were worse than him.

But he also reserved the right of self-defence, saying he had done nothing wrong and was entitled to protect himself in his own country.

But recent claims he is prepared to fight Australian troops made him angry.

"I did not say that. I've had good relations with the Australian military," he said.

Major Reinado trained in Australia and his wife lives in Perth, where she is expecting the couple's fourth child.

"I miss them very much. My oldest kid I hear is sick. That worries me and they are alone but I'd like to thank the Australians for looking after them," he said.

The rebel blamed his current plight on a corrupt legal system and self-serving politicians but said he had no intention of waging guerilla war or taking up arms against his country.

Major Reinado remained fiercely loyal to Mr Gusmao, saying he was "like a father".

"Gusmao is the only East Timorese leader to be trusted and the only one with a capacity to heal the broken nation," he said.

And he said his arrest in Dili for illegal weapons possession was concocted by pro-Portuguese political interests designed to thwart reconciliation talks planned by the President.

However, he was cagey about the issue of weapons in his possession.

Although Mari Alkatiri had resigned as prime minister in June, Major Reinado said, "Maputo socialists like Alkatiri" remained in the ministeries and the influence of the former prime minister was still evident.


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