Subject: AGE: Search for Timor rebel called off

Search for Timor rebel called off

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin July 20, 2007

A five-month hunt for East Timorese rebel military leader Alfredo Reinado was officially called off this week.

THE HUNT for Alfredo Reinado has been officially called off in East Timor's central mountains and the rebel military leader and his heavily armed men are being given safe conduct passes.

The decision brings to a humiliating end a five-month operation by Australian troops that included elite Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers.

Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro made the declaration to give East Timor's most wanted man safe passage in a letter to Mal Rerden, the commander of Australia's 800 soldiers in East Timor.

In the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Age, General Monteiro ordered Australian and other international security forces to "cease executions of all warrants made for Major Alfredo and his elements". General Monteiro said that "for security purposes" Reinado's group would be given security passes, a copy of which he sent with the letter.

Weeks earlier the country's then prime minister and now President Jose Ramos Horta ordered a halt to the hunt for Reinado who was wanted on charges of murder and rebellion, saying the decision would help the country recover from last year's violent upheaval.

But the Fretilin Government refused to sign any papers backing the order. Reinado is a cult-hero figure among many Timorese, his popularity remained strong even after a botched SAS-led attack on his mountain base in the town of Same on March 4. The attack is a rare exception where the SAS has failed to accomplish a mission in its 50-year history.

Five of Reinado's men were killed after SAS commandos dropped down ropes from four helicopters, their automatic rifles blazing. Reinado escaped and for months was helped by villagers to elude the Australians.

Meanwhile, East Timor is in leadership limbo after no party won more than half the vote at parliamentary elections on June 30. Fretilin and an alliance formed by former president Xanana Gusmao have agreed to form a unity government. Talks are continuing over who should be prime minister.

The new 65-seat Parliament is due to be inaugurated on July 30.

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