Two weeks ago we revealed written orders from East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao to the rebel commander Alfredo Reinado that showed a close relationship between the two at the height of the crisis in Dili in May this year. That was followed by front-page revelations in The Australian that Gusmao paid at least a share of Reinado’s hotel bill during the crisis.
Now, former East Timorese police commander, Abilio ‘Mausoko’ Mesquita, who is in jail for his role in the violence, has claimed in a leaked statement that Gusmao himself ordered him to attack the house of the Commander of East Timor’s military, Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak, on 24 and 25 May.
The statement is believed to have been written in Becora prison, where Mesquita is being held, and delivered to the US Embassy in Dili in order to help secure his release. If legitimate, it implicates the President in what was effectively an armed coup to create the conditions for the resignation of the legally elected Prime Minister of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri. Until now, Gusmao has either remained silent about his role in the violence or dismissed his close contact with opposition figures as attempts to bring the situation under control.
Some Australian commentators maintain the simplistic line that somehow Alkatiri and his Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato, engineered the recent crisis in East Timor. This view simply does not correlate with the facts on the ground, and does not take into account the details of who was actually shooting at whom. Now those commentators are either reduced to an embarrassed silence, or are making accusations of partiality about reporters who are simply uncovering uncomfortable facts.
Abilio Mesquita was arrested by the Australian Federal Police on 19 June with several Steyr automatic rifles in his possession. He was filmed at the scene of the third major incident of the crisis, the attack on Taur Matan Ruak’s house, and is alleged to have led it.
According to the statement, Mesquita told the head of the UN mission in East Timor, Sukehiro Hasegawa, when Hasegawa visited him in prison shortly after his arrest that: ‘during the confrontations between PNTL [the police]and F-FDTL [the army]and the shooting at the Brigadier’s house, the Supreme Commander Mr Xanana gave the command and ordered the shooting.’
Mesquita said he then carried out the attack, but not until he had notified Taur Matan Ruak himself and four of the most senior commanders in the army, of his orders from the President. He repeatedly told Hasegawa that it was Gusmao who was the author of the crisis in East Timor.
Mesquita says he repeated these claims to Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta when Ramos Horta allegedly visited him in jail on 13 August.
The statement also details the visit of two Australian army Majors, who questioned Mesquita on his role in the violence and where his political allegiances lay.
(This line of questioning from the Australian Forces, which basically consists of ‘are you with Alkatiri or Gusmao?’ is common in Dili. Countless individuals who had been questioned by the Australians, both police and military, told me that this was the first things the Australians always wanted to know. The implication was that if the person being questioned answered ‘Gusmao’, they were considered to be on the right side.)
Mesquita’s statement also makes reference to a meeting held at the President’s office before the crisis where, in the presence of local leaders including Chief of Police Paulo Martins, Jose Ramos Horta and the Bishop of Baucau, it is alleged the President discussed the need to get rid of the Government of Mari Alkatiri.
Other sources, from within the veterans’ organisation for former independence fighters, independently confirm that in March this year they were invited to a meeting with the President at his residence in Dare, in the hills above Dili, in which the plan to remove Alkatiri was discussed. Although the meeting involved some serving officers in the F-FDTL, the commander, Taur Matan Ruak, was not invited. At this meeting it was discussed that it was necessary to remove Alkatiri and his Government because of their perceived ‘communist’ sympathies.
This latest development only confirms to many East Timorese what they already knew. It is widely accepted in East Timor that the President threw his weight behind the push to get rid of Alkatiri but what is only spoken of in whispers is the level of his involvement.
The attempts by the President to intervene in the arrest of Reinado on 26 July and what was perceived as the Australian Forces’ reluctance to carry out the arrest have only added to the rumours. Now, with Reinado and co’s escape from prison being blamed on the Australians by Ramos Horta himself, and the seeming inability of the Australians to catch a man who appears on local television clearly on the outskirts of Dili, many East Timorese are highly skeptical of the motives of the Australian police and military.
East Timorese President
The release of Abilio Mesquita’s statement amounts to a trifecta for Gusmao: the leaders of the three main attacks on the F-FDTL in May have now publicly acknowledged their allegiance to the President. Those who led the other two major attacks Reinado, in Fatu Ahi on 23 May, and Vicente ‘Rai Los’ da Conceicao, in Tacitolu on 24 May have both publicly and repeatedly declared their support for and loyalty to Gusmao.
And as I wrote in newmatilda.com in June, senior sources within the command of the F-FDTL have also confirmed that in the 18 months leading up to the crisis they were approached on three occasions by foreign nationals to lead a coup against Alkatiri. They refused.
The facts are mounting and they paint a disturbing picture of the breakdown of constitutional democracy in East Timor.
Even more disturbing for East Timor’s future is information given to me this week by a senior figure in the East Timorese Government that weapons are being sought from across the border in Indonesian West Timor by Reinado and his gang of escaped criminals, and that they are being sold by former Indonesian-backed militia in the border town of Atambua. The current price is US$800 each for AR-15 automatic rifles and, according to the same source, Australian authorities are aware of the trade.
The question remains: if these allegations are true and the President is directly involved in the violence, then what was Australia’s role in the alleged coup? Did Australia encourage Gusmao to remove Alkatiri, and if so, why?
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