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Who are East Timor's rebel soldiers?

By Philippa Fogarty
BBC News

Alfredo Reinado (file image)
Reinado and his group had been in hiding for months
The rebels who attacked East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta had been on the run from the authorities for some time.

Their leader, Alfredo Reinado - who was killed in the attack - leapt to prominence during the unrest that paralysed East Timor in 2006.

The violence was triggered by then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's decision to sack 600 striking soldiers - about a third of the entire army.

The soldiers, who were mainly from the west of the country, complained of discrimination against them by leaders from the east.

They began rioting and, as the violence intensified, armed gangs of soldiers, police and youths from different parts of the country took each other on.

By late May, when Australian troops arrived to keep the peace, at least 37 people had been killed and more than 150,000 forced to leave their homes.

Reinado, an Australian-trained soldier who had climbed the ranks of the military police, was one of several commanders who joined the rebellion.

He headed one of the rebel factions and demanded that his troops be reinstated into the army.

After the peacekeepers arrived and an uneasy peace returned to East Timor, several of the rebel leaders abandoned their fight.

The situation and stability of this country will be worse than last year's crisis
Alfredo Reinado,
November 2007

Reinado was briefly one of them - he even took part in a ceremony to hand over weapons to international troops and pledged loyalty to then President Xanana Gusmao.

But he was then arrested for possession of illegal firearms and detained in a Dili jail. More charges followed, including eight counts of attempted murder linked to the wave of street violence.

A month later, he was one of more than 50 prisoners to escape from the jail. He and a group of followers - the numbers are still unknown - fled to the mountains, rejecting calls to surrender.

Reinado said that he would only turn himself in if certain conditions were met, including the departure of foreign troops from East Timor. He said that he would rather die than be forced to surrender.

Dialogue process

His presence in the mountains - and popular support for him in some areas - was an ongoing worry for East Timor's leaders as they worked to get the desperately poor nation back on track.

An Australian peacekeeper searches a man for weapons in Dili in June 2006
East Timor's leaders asked foreign troops to help restore order
In March 2007, after Reinado and his men raided a police post and stole weapons, Mr Gusmao ordered Australian-led troops to track them down.

Troops found the group in the town of Same, 50 km (30 miles) south of Dili. Five members of the rebel force were killed in the ensuing clash, but Reinado escaped.

There were, however, intermittent signals that the rebel leader was prepared to negotiate.

He met the army chief in December 2006 and later Mr Ramos-Horta, only a few months after he became president, in August 2007 as part of a Swiss-mediated dialogue process.

By then Mr Ramos-Horta had ordered troops to stop pursuing Reinado, but he wanted the rebel leader to give up his arms. A task force was formed to co-ordinate the dialogue.

The renegade soldier continued to hold out, however, telling people in November 2007 that he would take his troops to the capital, Dili, if they were not reinstated into the army.

"The situation and stability of this country will be worse than last year's crisis," he promised the crowd at the rally in his stronghold of Gleno.

Murder trial

The attack on Mr Ramos-Horta - and its timing - leaves many questions unanswered.

After all, Reinado's argument was primarily with former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his Fretilin party - neither of which are in power any more.

The rebel leader had also spoken positively of Mr Gusmao in the past - yet he was fired on by gunmen in an apparently synchronised attack shortly after Mr Ramos-Horta was shot.

One possible answer is a clash last week.

Reinado-led rebels fired warning shots near Australian troops inspecting roads for storm damage. Perhaps the rebels feared imminent arrest.

Another potential factor which could have caused Reinado to act is his trial, which was due to start in early March.

The only certainty is that today's events will deepen concerns about the stability of the fledgling nation of East Timor.




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