quarta-feira, 7 de março de 2007

Lindsay Murdoch in Dili
March 7, 2007

THE fugitive East Timorese rebel leader Alfredo Reinado wants to "talk and not fight", one of the men who escaped with him said yesterday.

Amaro Da Costa, alias Susar, told the Herald by mobile telephone that Reinado does not blame Australian troops for an attack on his hilltop base early last Sunday that left five of his men dead and one wounded.

"He blames the state, especially [Jose] Ramos-Horta," Da Costa said, referring to the Nobel laureate and interim Prime Minister.

Since the botched raid in the central mountain town of Same, violence has escalated in the capital, Dili, as Reinado's supporters roam the streets denouncing Australians and demanding that they leave East Timor.

In the first interview with any of those who escaped with Reinado, Da Costa dismissed rumours that Australian soldiers had wounded Reinado.

"Major Alfredo is fine … he's near me now," he said.

Asked what message Reinado had for the Government in Dili, he said: "Alfredo wants to talk and not fight. He believes that fighting will not benefit the people."

He said the Australian-trained Reinado had been ready for the attack, after the Australians had him surrounded for six days.

"We heard the Australian helicopters go up and then Australian soldiers suddenly appeared at our position firing their weapons … They shot one of our men who was on lookout.

"We realised that we had weak power compared to the Australians so we decided to flee. Our group is only small," he said.

Reinado had "devised a secret escape route. We decided it was better to use this way to escape because if we didn't we would have been killed," Da Costa said.

The Australian Defence Force has refused to provide information about the attack or current efforts to capture Reinado.

Mal Rerden, the commander of Australia's 800-strong contingent in East Timor, said yesterday that a fifth member of Reinado's group had been killed and one had been wounded.

Brigadier Rerden said the man had been shot and fell down a cliff during the battle. He was not noticed until a helicopter was flying overhead yesterday. The body was flown to Dili, where an autopsy would be conducted.

The wounded man was in a stable condition under guard in a military clinic, an Australian Army spokesman in Dili said.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said the security situation had worsened: "Reinado and his followers are a threat to the peaceful situation and the stability of the country."

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said the Government had recommended that Australians leave.

Sporadic violence continued in Dili yesterday, including the torching of houses.

United Nations police and Australian and New Zealand soldiers are ready for a feared fresh outbreak of violence today, when a court in Dili announces its verdict in the trial of the former interior minister Rogerio Lobato.

Lobato has pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiring to commit murder and providing weapons to civilians, in a highly charged hearing relating to a hit squad allegedly set up to eliminate rivals of the former prime minister Mari Alkatiri.

Australian Associated Press reports that Reinado supporters have threatened to murder President Xanana Gusmao's family as punishment for him asking Australian troops to hunt down the renegade major. The homes of two of Mr Gusmao's sisters have been attacked, one of the women said.

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