Subject: SMH: Troops back up top security alert

< >Troops back up top security alert

Sydney Morning Herald

March 3, 2007

Lindsay Murdoch in Dili

The Federal Government has sent a contingent of crack SAS soldiers to East Timor amid growing fears that violence will again erupt, and target Australians.

Four Australian Defence Force aircraft landed in Dili carrying about 100 soldiers, deployed following a national security committee meeting in Canberra.

The arrival of the additional troops, who will back 800 Australian and 120 New Zealand troops already here, came as Australia lifted its security alert to five, the highest level, for hundreds of Australians in East Timor.

Australian and United Nations security officials in Dili fear that widespread violence, possibly even civil war, could break out if Australian soldiers kill or injure the rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado, trapped with about 150 heavily armed men in a town in the central coffee-growing mountains.

Reinado, who has become a cult hero, said yesterday that if anything happens to him "people will violently rise up in their thousands". He claims to command 700 mutineering soldiers whose sacking last year sparked violent upheaval that left dozens of people dead and forced 100,000 people from their homes. Several hundred of his youth supporters around the country were also waiting for his orders, he said.

"People will start killing each other if anything happens to me," Reinado said by telephone from the town of Same, which is blockaded by dozens of Australian soldiers. "There will be civil war."

Reinado, the Australian-trained former head of East Timor's military police, said his supporters were not ready to fight because of his popularity but because "of what I am fighting for".

Reinado, wanted for murder and rebellion, claims the East Timorese Government is corrupt and the presence in the country of Australian and New Zealand troops is an illegal invasion.

A new attempt by East Timor's leaders to convince Reinado to surrender failed yesterday when Australian soldiers refused to allow the country's Prosecutor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, to enter Same.

Reiando became angry when Mr Monteiro phoned him and said he wanted to meet to pass on a message from the Government urging him to surrender, but that he did not have the authority to negotiate a deal.

"I didn't want to speak with a postman, I wanted to speak with the Prosecutor-General," Reinado said. "They are all trying to manipulate me."

The commander of Australian troops in East Timor, Mal Rerden, declined to comment yesterday about additional SAS troops in Dili. Brigadier-General Rerden repeated his earlier demand for Reinado to hand over his weapons and present himself to East Timor's judicial system.

But he said his troops are "supporting the Government … in every possible way to find a peaceful resolution to the situation."

General Rerden described the lifting of Australia's security alert as a "prudent measure".

It was justified by the actions of Reinado who had broken off negotiations with the government and led raids on police border posts last weekend, seizing 25 high powered weapons, he said.

"His acts were deliberate and quite significant and that naturally creates concern," General Rerden said.

Back to February menu

January 2007 menu  
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu