Subject: AFP: My weapons protect the people: Timor rebel

My weapons protect the people: Timor rebel

From correspondents in Dili

November 25, 2006 09:43pm

Agence France-Presse

EAST Timor's rebel military leader Major Alfredo Reinado, on the run for murder and illegal arms possession, claims he kept the weapons to protect the people, a report said today. Reinado, who has been accused of murder by the government, did not deny withholding firearms he was supposed to have surrendered to Australian peacekeepers, the Timor Post newspaper quoted him as saying.

"I have guns, I don't deny that. The crux of the matter, however, is not about the ownership of the guns but what they are used for," Reinado told the newspaper in an interview from an undisclosed location.

"If those guns are used to serve and provide security for the people, I think I have more rights to hold on to them," he added.

Reinado was arrested in August on charges of weapons possession despite assurances from his group that they had surrendered all their arms to Australian peacekeepers.

Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta urged peacekeepers on Friday to arrest Reinado, saying authorities had already issued a warrant.

Reinado, whose escape from a Dili jail in August sparked an ongoing manhunt by UN police and international peacekeepers, has since made several public appearances without being detained.

In May, Reinado led a group of deserting troops and was accused of sparking civil unrest, including clashes among rival security forces and gang wars on the streets that killed 21 people.

The violence prompted the deployment of an Australian-led international peacekeeping force.

In Saturday's front page article, which showed him holding a weapon similar to a rocket-propelled grenade, Reinado reiterated that he was ready to talk with the government.

"I'm ready for dialogue with the government and the East Timor defence force and I want this dialogue to provide a sort of guarantee and bring peace for the people," he said.

East Timor's new UN police commissioner, Antero Lopes, has said he believed he could hold talks with Reinado eventually leading to the rebel's unconditional surrender.

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