East Timor’s Prime Minister MarÃ Alkatiri finally stood down on Monday after repeated calls for his resignation. According to the man himself, the Australian media played a large part in the campaign to get rid of him.
‘It started in The Australian,’ he said, ‘and suddenly it spread to more or less all. Some [report like this]because they are not informed or aware of the situation but others because they are trying to demonise me.’
Right up until his resignation Alkatiri insisted that the crisis gripping East Timor was a foreign-backed coup, and that a series of recent allegations against him were politically motivated.
In a wide-ranging interview last week, he gave his own version of what caused the chaos in Dili in late May and the breakdown of law and order that led to 130,000 internal refugees and the deployment of 2500 troops from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia to quell the violence.
Alkatiri claims that opposition groups within East Timor with foreign backing had repeatedly tried to convince prominent commanders in the East Timorese armed forces to overthrow his Government. When this failed, he said, they helped provoke the army mutiny which had taken the country to the brink of civil war. ‘They were always trying to get the command of Falintil-FDTL (East Timor Defence Forces).’
‘They tried to convince the command to order and participate in a coup. They failed.’ It was then, he said, that his opponents embarked on a program to weaken the influence of the military. ‘When they failed to bring the command to join their forces in a coup they tried to break F-FDTL by bringing out of the barracks almost 600, which they called the petitioners.’
It was the sacking of 600 soldiers from the tiny country’s western region that precipitated the latest crisis. The soldiers were protesting what they perceived as discrimination in the armed forces, which is dominated by commanders from the country’s east where the guerrilla forces held out during the 24-year Indonesian occupation.
Senior sources within the command of F-FDTL confirmed that Alkatiri’s claims were genuine. They say three separate approaches had been made to the leadership to lead a coup against Alkatiri in the past 18 months.
I was able to confirm that in April 2005, following weeks of mass demonstrations against Alkatiri’s Government, the commander of the F-FDTL, Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak, had been approached to lead a coup by senior figures within East Timor’s Catholic church. He rejected the offer. He was approached again early this year and asked to lead a coup in a meeting with two prominent East Timorese leaders and two foreign nationals. Again he refused, reportedly telling them it was against the Constitution and would set an unacceptable precedent.
One of his leading deputies, Lieutenant-Colonel Falur Rate Laek, a veteran of the war against Indonesia, was also approached by the same two local leaders and foreign nationals. He also refused.
Due to the sensitivity of the information, the nationalities of the foreigners was not revealed.
Alkatiri says his political opponents exploited ethnic divisions within the police force to create unrest:
‘Then they try to influence the PNTL [East Timor National Police Force]. How did they do it? Through this kind of propaganda: Loro Mono-Loro Sae [West vs East]. They succeeded in dividing the people within the PNTL. This is the whole strategy. Then they put groups of PNTL against groups of F-FDTL in confrontation. And they succeeded again.’
‘This is why I requested assistance from outside,’ he said, in reference to the arrival of foreign troops in late May.
Alkatiri is adamant the violence was orchestrated as part of a program to topple his Government. ‘It has to be institutions inside, assisted by others outside,’ he said. I pressed him on this point. Who exactly was he talking about? ‘I think there are outside groups can be from Australia maybe from Indonesia but not the Governments But still I do believe there are outside groups. We need some time to investigate.’
Recent allegations against the Alkatiri Government have proved difficult to verify. Mass graves and so-called massacres apparently perpetrated by the Armed Forces at the Prime Minister’s request have failed to materialise and have proved to be nothing more than rumours.
The most damning allegations against Alkatiri, aired on Four Corners on 19 June, were that he had ordered his Minister for the Interior, RogÃ©rio Lobato, to arm a secret civilian security team under the leadership of Vincente da ConceiÃ§Ã£o also known as Commander ‘Rai Los.’ Lobato has since resigned and is now under house arrest.
Rai Los claimed Alkatiri ordered him to set up a hit squad to wipe out opponents. In response, Alkatiri said that he knew three of the men involved in the Rai Los group as they had attended the Fretilin conference in May. He also said he had had a brief meeting with them in which he told them only to enforce security, but not to kill opponents as they claimed.
Alkatiri also pointed out that the Rai Los group had fought against the F-FDTL and taken part in the attack on the military base at Tacitolu on 24 May.
‘This is contradictory,’ Alkatiri said. ‘What kind of secret Fretilin group is this that they are also fighting against the F-FDTL?’
The F-FDTL confirmed that Rai Los’s men had participated in the attack on their base in Tacitolu which, according to the soldiers, had been a surprise attack from positions prepared in the hills above their base by Rai Los and soldiers under ‘Major’ Alfredo Reinado. The soldiers also added that Rai Los was a former Falintil guerrilla fighter in the war against Indonesia who had been sacked by the armed forces in 2004 over embezzling pay-cheques.
What is clear is that the violence that led to the resignation of the Prime Minister was initiated by soldiers who had left the military with their weapons under the command of self-appointed ‘Major’ Alfredo Reinado, a lieutenant who left the military command after becoming involved with the demonstrating soldiers. They were the ones who attacked the F-FDTL on the 23 and 24 of May, which sparked the violence.
Perhaps those mysterious two foreign nationals and the local leaders who approached the military had finally found their man in the East Timorese defence force to carry out their coup?
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