Subject: AFP: Timor fugitive will talk if manhunt halted: aide

Agence France-Presse Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Timor fugitive will talk if manhunt halted: aide

A fugitive East Timor rebel being hunted by Australian troops is prepared to negotiate if the military operation against him is halted, one of his aides said Tuesday.

"If they want to enter a dialogue, it is easy. The operation has to stop," the aide, speaking to AFP under cover of anonymity, quoted Alfredo Reinado as saying.

The aide said Reinado was pleased that two bishops were recently appointed as mediators for any future dialogue.

"I am very happy," Reinado said, as quoted by the aide. "The church is an independent organ, and I trust them more that they will be able to take the dialogue forward."

Reinado has been a persistent problem for the government of East Timor, one of the world's newest and poorest independent nations.

It is due to hold a presidential poll next month and some fear Reinado may destabilise the vote.

He has been criticised over his role in violence last year that killed at least 37 people, displaced 150,000 and led to the deployment of international peacekeepers.

Australian troops surrounded Reinado's mountain base in late February and attacked it a few days later, killing four of his armed supporters.

But the renegade soldier eluded the offensive as well as a manhunt launched after the failed attack.

Reinado's base was located in Same, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of the capital, Dili, and the aide said the rebel was sorry for the hardship the town's residents had suffered due to the military action.

"I am saddened and my heart cries over what has happened in Same, because innocent people have become the victims," he quoted Reinado as saying.

Reinado's supporters demonstrated in Dili and elsewhere after the military offensive, leading East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao to warn of a security crackdown in a televised address.

The president had given the international force the green light to capture Reinado after accusing him of stealing weapons from police posts on the border with neighbouring Indonesia, which occupied East Timor for 24 years.

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