Paul Toohey | March 13, 2008
ALL communications lines to the rebels being hunted down by hundreds of government soldiers in the western part of East Timor have gone down, sparking concern among negotiators.
A senior East Timorese government source said the rebels, led by Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, had today “disconnected their communications”.
The source said mediators had been trying to persuade the rebel group – said to comprise 30 men, most of them armed – to hand over the rebel Marcelo Caetano.
The Australian revealed today that President Jose Ramos Horta had identified Caetano, a junior officer, as the man who shot him twice on the morning of February 11.
The source said that earlier today mediators had been trying to persuade the group to hand Caetano over, partly for the safety of Caetano before the East Timorese soldiers got to him, and partly for the safety of the whole rebel outfit.
However, the rebels believe they can be targeted when their phones are on - whether or not they are making calls.
While such “triangulation” technology is available internationally, it is not known whether it is being deployed against the rebels in East Timor.
Mediators hoping to persuade the rebels to surrender fear the communication shutdown is a bad sign for the group.
It suggested they might be going into military mode and preparing for shootout.
It was also axiomatic that while the lines were down, any chance of negotiation was gone. “The military operation is ongoing,” said the source.