Subject: Connect Asia: EAST TIMOR: Lobato jailed for arming rebels

Radio Australia

Connect Asia

EAST TIMOR: Lobato jailed for arming rebels

East Timor's former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, was sentenced to seven and a half years jail yesterday. A panel of three judges found him guilty of distributing police uniforms, ammunition and weapons to a group of civilians led by the rebel army officer, Alfredo Reinado. Presenter - Mark Willacy, Speaker - Corporal Ryan Cooke, Australian army; vox pops Dili market - listen windows media  

(SFX - Cook/rocks) COOK: "Make sure you take your bloody helmets. And also gas marks. At this stage their starting to throw rocks over the back fence again."

WILLACY: It's pouring with rain, and Corporal Ryan Cooke is in the slums of western Dili, ordering his troops from Charlie Company to hunt down some youths causing trouble.

The young men - probably gang members - have just thrown rocks into a UN compound, but Corporal Cooke fears they may start firing more dangerous weapons.

COOK: The darts they use are manufactured in a primitive way from locally gathered steel etc., aluminium and are fired from a slingshot. If you can imagine a primitive spear gun for instance, that's basically what you're looking at. With the body armour we wear, it wouldn't kill us, but if it did penetrate other parts of our body, it would do sufficient damage.

WILLACY: We're walking through a part of western Dili where the gang members are extremely strong. It's on the outskirts of the capital, a lot of the houses here have been burnt out, looted and destroyed. The Australians have received reports that some of the gangs operating around here have just attacked a World Food Program centre - so they're on patrol.

COOK: Lately though with the elections and whatnot that have been coming forward, it does appear that people are bloody acting a little bit more spontaneously. The big problem with Timor at the moment is gangs and the impact they have on the community is quite significant.

WILLACY: The men of Charlie Company have confiscated dozens of weapons in this neighbourhood - from metal spears to tomahawks, machetes, even lumps of wood spiked with scores of nails.

(SFX - Dili kids)

But another side of the job here is winning hearts and minds, and today the kids of this slum have scored a few footballs - gifts from Charlie company.

(SFX - Market)

In merkado lama - one of Dili's open-air markets, we spoke to some East Timorese about the presence of Australian troops.

TIMORESE WOMAN "I want the Australian forces to stay, as long as they want to save East Timor," says this woman.

TIMORESE MAN: "The Australian soldiers should stay in East Timor, because the situation is not good," says this man. "If they leave, we East Timorese will kill each other."

WILLACY: In recent days, some East Timorese, mainly young men, have voiced anti-Australian sentiment out on the streets…a response to the Australian forces' pursuit of the rebel East Timorese army officer Alfredo Reinado.

But many in Dili believe the renegade Reinado is a source of strife, not pride.

TIMORESE MAN: "If Major Reinado wants the best thing for East Timor he should surrender," says this man. "He can then face justice, instead of causing civil war."

WILLACY: Unlike Major Reinado one high-profile East Timorese leader has just faced justice…and many East Timorese are rejoicing today because the conviction of the country's former Interior Minister on charges of arming civilian militias and encouraging them to murder his political opponents.

Rogerio Lobato was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison…his lawyers says he will appeal.

© ABC 2007 

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