Australians leave E Timor as violence looms
Reporter: Kirstin Murray
KERRY O'BRIEN: Britain and New Zealand have joined Australia in calling for all non essential nationals to evacuate East Timor immediately, after supporters of a renegade army officer took to the streets in a violent protest overnight. Anger flared on the weekend when an Australian led international security force launched an armed assault on a compound where Alfredo Reinado was hiding. Now peacekeeping troops are bracing for the reaction from locals to news that five of Reinado's men were killed by Australian soldiers, rather than four, as was originally reported. East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao, has issued full powers to foreign soldiers to halt the unrest. With elections only months away, the pressure is on to resolve the stand-off and restore stability to the troubled nation.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: This is East Timor's most wanted man, seen here relaxing amongst his supporters in their mountain hideout. When these images were recorded by an Australian film maker three months ago, Alfredo Reinado said he was willing to surrender. On tape he makes a direct plea to President Xanana Gusmao.
ALFREDO REINADO (TAPED MESSAGED, NOV 2006): My message is, please stop. I am not in hiding. If you want me, tell me and I will be there. Don't use international forces to capture me. I am not your enemy.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: But the hunt is now on. Australian troops are combing East Timor's rugged terrain with urgent orders to flush Reinado out of the jungle.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well, the situation is a concern to me and to the Government. Those evacuations are precautionary. I don't hold deep fears, but I do hold some concerns. The security situation has got worse, and Reinado and his followers are a threat to the peaceful situation and the stability of the country.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: Tensions are running high after troops raided his jungle compound at the weekend. Reinado slipped the net, but five of his men were killed. President Gusmao gave the go-ahead for the operation after hearing reports Reinado and his supporters seized weapons from police stations. The East Timorese Government says President Gusmao had no choice.
SAHE DE SILVA, FRETILIN SPOKESMAN: We've been, or the Government's been, trying to get him to surrender in order to face the courts over his actions, and he has so far refused to do so. Someone who claims they want justice and refuses to submit themselves to the judicial system is not a folk hero.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: But peacekeeping troops are now facing the backlash from Reinado supporters. Overnight, street gangs carrying sticks and rocks roamed suburbs, looking for Australians. Flights out of the capital are full, as Australians begin evacuating. President Gusmao has now given soldiers and UN police sweeping powers to search and detain troublemakers, a move not welcomed by all.
INA BRADRIDGE: If Australians really think, really, really think they want to help my people, and to see my country get better, you should work together with Reinado, including Xanana, including other politicians and the people, and it's not just taking a side.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: Ina Bradridge acted as a mediator between the President and Reinado after the former military police major, together with his soldiers, took to the hills last year over concerns about discrimination and corruption. She says Reinado held great respect for the President, dedicating a tattoo to the man he called his supreme commander.
INA BRADRIDGE: So Reinado is feeling, I think he's very disappointed to Xanana and as a leader - he's really angry about it because Xanana in the first place has always supported him and for Xanana to turn around and say, now, go and catch him, I think he's really disappointed. Very, very, very, very disappointed.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: But with elections due within months for a new president and prime minister, the Timorese Government acknowledges the timing of the attack was critical.
SAHE DE SILVA: Reinado needs to be brought in to prevent him from causing instability and violence during the elections, so that voters can freely vote.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: The Australian military's defended its role in the raid.
BRIGADIER MALCOLM RERDEN, CMDR OF THE INTERNATIONAL STABILISATION FORCE: The Government of Timor's authority has been restated in Same and the people of Same can now go back to living a normal life, so I think it was a very successful operation. We will apprehend Alfredo Reinado.
DR DAMIEN KINGSBURY, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY: The East Timorese Government explicitly asked the ADF to take the action it did take. They were acting very clearly on the part of the East Timorese Government that decided that, despite attempts to negotiate, it really had run out of options and run out of time.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: Reinado has successfully dodged capture for more than three days, hiding out in terrain he knows far better than Australian troops. He's previously warned he will defend himself if cornered.
ALFREDO REINADO: If, you know, any Australian would pursue me without any reason I would shoot back. But I'm not doing that, I'm preparing. I know very well what Australian troops come here to do.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: Damien Kingsbury, a specialist in Indonesian affairs, believes the longer the rebel leader remains a fugitive, the more popular he could become.
DAMIEN KINGSBURY: It's difficult to assess Reinado's support base at this stage. In terms of numbers it's probably still a fairly small percentage of the population but even if it's only in the order of 5 per cent or 10 per cent, that still is significant in terms of absolute numbers and it's enough to destabilise East Timor for a considerable period.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: President Gusmao still hopes Reinado will surrender and face charges relating to last year's violence. As for Reinado, he argues he's defending the best interests of East Timor.
ALFREDO REINADO: I'm not a rebel leader, I still love my institution. I hope that day by day I'm still alive, still smiling and I want to see my country live with a peaceful country and keep a good guarantee of stability and good for the nation, yes.
KIRSTIN MURRAY: But the Australian charged with capturing Reinado says he's no hero.
MALCOLM RERDEN: He chose not to stand and fight, he chose to run. I don't think that's an example of someone who's in a position of authority or indeed coming out of the situation in the best position.