Paul Toohey, Dili | February 18, 2008
NINETY of Alfredo Reinado's rebels, most of them armed, broke the East Timor-wide 8pm curfew and entered Dili late on Wednesday night to pay their last respects as their leader and his offsider, Leopoldino Exposto, lay in coffins awaiting burial.
Reinado's adoptive father, Victor Alves, says the men had filed on foot through the backstreets of Dili, under the noses of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force, Portuguese riot police and East Timorese police.
Mr Alves says they were angry and that night wanted to take revenge on East Timorese F-FDTL army soldiers who had shot and killed Reinado in President Jose Ramos Horta's villa on Monday morning, but he was able to calm them, urging them not to act, out of respect for himself and Reinado.
Mr Ramos Horta is still recovering in Royal Darwin Hospital. He remains sedated and on a ventilator and is likely to undergo further surgery tomorrow. Hospital spokesman Luke Gosling said doctors were pleased with the outcome of the most recent surgery on Friday.
Events surrounding the attempt to assassinate the President are no clearer to authorities, with UN police, sections of the Australian military, the general population and even Mr Ramos Horta's relatives flatly refusing to believe that Reinado went to the President's home to kill him.
Mr Ramos Horta had been in close contact with Reinado over the past two years since he and 500 to 600 western-born soldiers abandoned their posts, angry that their eastern F-FDTL colleagues had received preferential treatment and had fired upon them in 2006 when they marched to protest at their conditions.
The Australian has the names of two more of Reinado's band who were with him last Monday morning.
Mr Alves said: "I spoke to (one of them) and said, 'Why shoot Ramos Horta? He's a good man'.
"He said to me, 'Father, I didn't shoot him. I shot at them (Mr Ramos Horta's own F-FDTL guard) because they had shot Ramos Horta'.
"I said to him, 'I don't believe you. You shot Ramos Horta.' He said he didn't do it. He said when the time came, I could look him in the eye. If I believed he shot Ramos Horta, I could shoot him."
Mystery surrounds how the President was shot in the back when he was walking up the hill into gunfire. The whole thing is taking on grassy knoll dimensions, with Reinado's own men telling Mr Alves that the F-FDTL soldiers shot Mr Ramos Horta from behind while they hid inside the compound.
The Australian travelled to the Ermera district yesterday, west of Dili, Reinado's old stomping ground. The mood is strange. Normally it is one of the first flashpoints for trouble in East Timor but the youth are unusually subdued.
It is not just that there are armed guards and police - the young men have grown up under the rule of the gun and don't show great fear for them.
It is almost as though they are waiting to find out what really happened at the President's villa. One thing they and their Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Pakistani UNPOL guards have in common is that no one knows the real story.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the East Timorese Government might want to rethink its policy of seeking a negotiated settlement with rebel fighters.
"As I said to Foreign Minister Zacharias Da Costa, when I saw him in Darwin during the week, that (policy) is something that the East Timorese Government now may well wish to reflect upon, given what's occurred," Mr Smith told the Ten Network.
The man accused of staging the almost simultaneous ambush on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's motorcade, Gastao Salsinha, has strenuously denied any involvement and has also extended an offer to Mr Alves to shoot him if he's lying.