Subject: East Timor Rebel Asks for Talks as Troops Close In

Agence France-Presse

Thursday, March 1, 2007

East Timor rebel asks for talks as troops close in

An East Timor rebel leader asked to negotiate with authorities Thursday as an Australian-led international force surrounded his hideout, but rejected calls to hand himself in, a witness with him said.

Major Alfredo Reinado was holed up in Same, 50 kilometres (25 miles) south of the capital, Dili, as troops using tanks and helicopters closed in on the rebel and his men.

The renegade soldier, a persistent thorn in the side of the government in East Timor, one of the world's newest independent nations, had vowed to fight to the death.

"He has sent a message to the general prosecutor and presidential staff... that this current situation be settled through dialogue and negotiations," an East Timor lawmaker, Leandro Isaac, who is with Reinado, told AFP.

Isaac said Reinado did not want to surrender.

"For him there is only one option: It is better to die than surrender," the lawmaker said, contacted by telephone, adding that Reinado was still vowing a fight to the death if necessary.

He did not say how Reinado communicated his message to the authorities.

Isaac added that people in Same, which has been sealed off, had started to suffer a shortage of food and clean water.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has accused Reinado of stealing firearms from police posts on the border with Indonesia and has given the international force the green light to capture him.

The government had been trying to negotiate with the rebel, who is partly blamed for deadly unrest last year that prompted the dispatch of international troops.

Meanwhile Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said the troops would use "appropriate force" if they agreed to capture Reinado.

Any such operation "will be conducted with the usual professionalism and appropriate use of force that the Australian Defence Force always applies," he said.

Brigadier General Mal Rerden, the Australian in charge of the international force, told reporters in Dili that Reinado would bear responsibility for what could ensue.

"He has one option. He can help the people of Timor-Leste by surrendering himself and removing the threat of the weapons," he said, referring to the country by its formal name.

"If he cares about the people of Timor-Leste, if he cares about the people with him now, he would give up his weapons and surrender. Anything that happens from now on is his responsibility."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Thursday also urged Reinado to surrender.

"It's of concern to us that he is still on the loose and I think he, appropriately, should surrender himself to the East Timorese authorities," Downer told reporters.

The renegade soldier reportedly said he took the weapons from the police posts to stop them being misused by East Timor's ruling Fretilin party.

Neighbouring Indonesia, which occupied East Timor between 1975 and 1999, sealed their border at Dili's request following Reinado's raids.

The rebel led a band of breakaway soldiers last April and May when battles between security factions degenerated into rampant gang violence.

Around 37 people were killed and more than 150,000 fled their homes. The government then asked for international help and Australian-led peacekeepers were dispatched.

Reinado was arrested but escaped from jail with more than 50 other inmates.

East Timor is scheduled to hold presidential elections on April 9 and there are concerns security could deteriorate ahead of the vote.


Terjemahan (atas jasa "Kataku")

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