Subject: Ramshackle revolution
Paul Toohey | September 02, 2008
VICTOR and Teresa de Sousa were friends of Alfredo Reinado's lover, Angie Pires, and had come to know the rebel leader. Reinado was charming and edgy; they sometimes went to the hills to lunch with him. On this day, February 10, he took them by surprise with a remark that would, in hindsight, carry heavy meaning.
"If I die tomorrow, what will you put on my grave?" Reinado asked.
"It was like he was only half-joking. We were silent, we were all shocked," says Teresa.
Men with guns were coming and going from Reinado's hilltop hideaway. Cars were being readied. Victor and Teresa did not know he was planning a visit to Dili.
Victor had bought Reinado a bottle of vodka. "I put it on the table. He said, 'No, Victor, I don't want to drink. I want to change my life'. Normally when I go there, he drinks. He said, 'All you people can go to the beach on the weekend. I want to be the same as you. I don't want to live here in the bush any more. I don't deserve this life'. He was not the same person."
The following day Reinado was dead, shot inside President Jose Ramos Horta's villa after a dawn visit and, soon after, Ramos Horta would be lying on the road outside his home after being hit by two bullets.
Reinado had become desperate. He'd offended just about everyone in authority in East Timor with his refusal to surrender his stolen weapons and end a two-year stand-off.
One of Reinado's senior non-rebel advisers, who knows the truth and begs not to be named, says, "He had lost patience because the Government had no mechanism to solve his problem."
Ramos Horta, who had promised amnesty for Reinado, realised he did not have the power to deliver on his promises and was under strong pressure not to do Reinado any favours. Reinado decided to force a meeting.
It was a dangerous gambit, so he had his second-in-command, Gastao Salsinha, wait at Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's house in the Dili hills as his insurance policy in case things went wrong.
In the words of one Australian military source: "They went to Dili to touch power, to get close, to kidnap or kill if needed. This is very simple case of a murderer and a bandit doing what he did best. And things did go wrong."
In Reinado's pocket, along with his magic protection charms, was his fake Indonesian identity card. On the night before the attacks he took a text message from a mystery woman, who told Reinado she would love him forever. Investigators have been unable to trace the source of that message but think it was one of his many girlfriends.
Conspiracies are swirling in East Timor, blaming Gusmao for faking his own ambush. The theory goes that Gusmao used planted agents to tell Reinado that Ramos Horta wanted to see him, and had him executed; and that he also wanted to kill Ramos Horta, who was talking about bringing forward elections that could have ended Gusmao's ruling coalition. The ambush was a decoy to establish Gusmao's innocence.
There is no proof for this. What is certain is that Reinado had lost hope. Secret recordings published by The Australian show Reinado and Ramos Horta had run out of things to talk about in their last meeting on January 13.
Gusmao had made no secret of his hate for Reinado, saying in late 2007 that he wanted him captured "dead or alive". By early 2008, Gusmao was making efforts to undermine Reinado.
In early 2006, some 600 western-born petitioners were sacked after abandoning their barracks claiming discrimination within East Timor's armed forces, with eastern-born soldiers (more likely to be former anti-Indonesian resistance fighters) being preferred for promotion.
The near civil war that followed saw thousands of Timorese take to tent camps around Dili, refusing to return to their homes while the rebel stand-off continued. For Gusmao, the problem of Reinado and the refugees was linked. Proof of that came when Reinado was killed: they all packed up and went home.
It also meant Reinado's death suited Gusmao. It does not follow that he had him killed.
Gusmao had appointed his special adviser Joaquin Fonseca to try to separate the petitioners from Reinado's leadership group, by bringing them down to Dili to live in cantonment. Reinado knew that once the petitioners were taken from him, he was nothing: just a group of 22 rebels that could
be easily destroyed.
Fonseca focused on a group of 11 of the original petitioners who were fed up with Reinado. "They were pissed off that Alfredo didn't keep his word by not turning up to meetings. They thought he was playing." These 11 were sent to speak with petitioners, offering safety and compensation if they came down to Dili.
As Fonseca was trying to assure the petitioners they would be safe in the Dili cantonment, a cocktail-bomb was thrown into the compound. That was on February 6 and was courtesy of Reinado.
"Reinado had said the cantonment was not going to happen," said Fonseca. Nevertheless, the following day, the first group of 87 petitioners came down to Dili. On the night of February 7, a grenade exploded in the ISF's barracks in Dili, also thought to be a rebel message.
"I warned the prime minister in January there would be trouble when we separated Alfredo from the petitioners," said Fonseca. "I learned the only power he had was drawn from the petitioners." Fonseca prevailed and the petitioners started coming down in big numbers. Reinado's influence was collapsing.
On February 9, Reinado received a message from Ramos Horta that a meeting scheduled for the following week was not going to happen. Reinado became morose, believing Ramos Horta had given up on him. He began to gather his core rebels.
A shady group called MUNJ - the Movement for National Unity and Justice - spent the last days with Reinado.
They supplied the vehicles used in the Dili visit. MUNJ had recently resigned from a task force set up to resolve the Reinado issue. The Australian learned recently that the rebels continue to protect MUNJ, saying its members were not with Reinado on February 10. This was despite photographic evidence to the contrary.
Fonseca lived 300m from the President's villa. On the morning of February 11, at about 6.20am, Fonseca heard two separate bursts of automatic fire."As I told my wife we had to leave, neighbours came saying, 'Get out of the house. Alfredo's men have shot the President'." It is known Reinado was alive at least until 6.17am, when he made his last call to his buddy Salsinha.
The Australian manager of the Dili ANZ branch, Mike Durman, had been on a morning bike ride past Ramos Horta's villa. He looked up and saw outside the gate of the President's house gunmen walking around firing weapons. It was between 6.30am and 6.45am.
Then, from behind a concrete block about 30m away, someone started firing close over Durman's shoulder. The shots may have come from a rebel posted to keep anyone from entering the area. Durman sheltered behind a statue, and then rode back to warn Ramos Horta, whom he'd just ridden past.
The President seemed startled by the news. He started heading for his home, but would not get far up the road before he was shot.
Reinado and his mate Leopoldino were already dead inside the President's compound, having been shot - as autopsy results would show - at point-black range. When Reinado and his 11 rebels arrived in two cars, just as daylight was breaking, the two sleepy guards on the front gate were clearly not expecting them. They went to arm their weapons but were restrained by Reinado, who ordered one of his men to watch them while he went inside with three rebels.
They removed automatic rifles and machine guns from sleeping guards and took them back out to their vehicles. Some were wearing balaclavas, which is not what expected visitors wear.
The public story is that Reinado and Leopoldino were shot from a distance. It seems more likely that they were surprised by two of the President's guards at close quarters. Reinado was shot through the hand and the neck as he offered a reflex defence, and then again, twice, once he had dropped. Leopoldino was shot through the back of the head.
Reinado's gunshot wounds featured blackening and burning, forensic evidence that he was shot at a point-blank range. The sniper story was likely concocted to protect the President's guards, who had acted in understandable haste.
Reinado's rebels were not the crack soldiers they imagined themselves to be. There is a belief Reinado had not even explained the mission to his men. "They were small people," says an investigator. "Reinado never told them anything."
The rebels called out for Reinado, who did not respond. There was a brief exchange of fire. Most of them ran for the hills. Two braver rebels delayed, and one of them, upon sighting Ramos Horta walking up the street, shot him on the belief he had lured Reinado to his death. As they ran, they sent text messages up to Salsinha that Reinado was gone.
Salsinha was a coward, and on this morning had put a number of his men in ambush positions while making sure he was clear of the action.
Gusmao's security, preparing to take the boss to work, received calls at 6.45am that there was gunfire at the President's house. Gusmao decided to go down. By the time Fonseca got through to Gusmao to warn him that Ramos Horta had been shot, Gusmao was inside the ambush.
Salsinha watched the motorcade pass and gave the order to attack the Prime Minister's car. Then he walked inside the house, pretending to ask if the Prime Minister was in residence.
Despite persistent claims Gusmao set the thing up, I keep returning to the interview I had with Gusmao's driver, Adolfo Suarez dos Santos. This man was uncomplicated and honest. When the firing started, a bullet came through the back of the vehicle, through his seat and lodged in the dashboard. Gusmao, who was by then laying on the back seat, was lucky to survive.
This was a genuine attempt by incompetent rebels to kill or kidnap the Prime Minister, in response to Reinado's death. "I went to see the (PM's) car at the police station," said Fonseca. "They weren't playing."
The core group of rebels had come to hate Gusmao. They believed he had used them in the troubles of 2006 to help overthrow Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin government but had since abandoned them.
Even so, Gusmao had more rebel blood than any of these men and retained a certain mystique. Explaining why the men could not finish him off, or kidnap him, Fonseca said: "It takes a lot of courage to face Xanana, you know. They would have been very nervous about killing him."