Tonight on Al Jazeera’s 101 East Program, a spokesperson for the East Timorese Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, will answer for the first time allegations by the late rebel leader Alfredo Reinado that the PM put him up to the violence that plunged the country into crisis in May 2006.
In a DVD statement released before his death, Reinado accused Gusmao of being the puppet master behond the violence. newmatilda.com spoke to investigative journalist John Martinkus about the allegations made in tonight’s show.
newmatilda.com: Tell us about the DVD
John Martinkus: In December last year, Xanana Gusmao more or less issued an ultimatum to Alfredo Reinado, saying: look, this is your last chance to surrender peacefully.
Reinado responded by issuing this DVD and statement, in which he very clearly names Gusmao as being behind the violence. He more or less says: you created me, you created the situation.
The statement created quite a stir in East Timor, because this is the first time that he’d ever said anything like this. It was also confirming what a lot of people had been saying all along. Which, of course, is what I’ve been saying all along too – there have been a series of revelations all pointing in this direction.
The claim has been reported quite extensively in East Timor, but in Australia it only made the press when, in January this year, former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri asked Gusmao to respond to the allegations in Parliament. Gusmao refused.
Up until now, Gusmao has said nothing. When the local press did try to get a statement from him in Dili, he told them that if they followed the story any further and interviewed Reinado, they could be arrested. It’s quite interesting that that’s how he responded.
Is President Jose Ramos Horta implicated in the statement?
Reinado doesn’t mention Horta at all. It’s directed solely at Gusmao, basically saying: you are the one who was behind it, you know what’s going on, you know that I know lots of things. He’s threatening to spill the beans.
Really it was the last card that Reinado had to play. He thought that he’d been protected, he’d been basically unmolested, and he thought it was because Gusmao was protecting him. Gusmao then turned around and said: okay that’s your last chance, don’t play with me, you have to face justice.
Reinado’s response to that was to say: well, you were behind it all along.
He was playing a game, saying: if you want to prosecute me, you should go to jail too.
In your opinion are the allegations true?
In the course of investigating what actually happened in May 2006, and the violence that started the crisis, yes, I do think there were communications at that time between Gusmao, Reinado and Rai Los, the other main player in the attack against the East Timorese Military (F-FDTL) that started the whole thing. I definitely think Gusmao was, at the very least, in constant communication with them, if not directing the operation.
Was Monday’s attack on Horta a kidnapping attempt, as is now being reported?
There so much speculation going on about what Reinado was actually doing there. Yesterday’s report from the Associated Press’s Anthony Deutsch is probably the closest thing we’ve got to what actually happened. Deutsch interviewed one of Horta’s guards who was the one who said he shot Reinado. Acccording to him, Reinado and his men arrived at Horta’s house and almost began shooting immediately.
There were reports that Reinado was staying at Horta’s house, or he was shot as he was trying to negotiate, I don’t actually think that’s the case. The fact is they rolled up there fully armed, fully kitted out for battle, and ready to fight. And the F-FDTL guards responded to their presence.
This latest attack on both leaders’ houses is reminiscent of what Reinado and his men did in 2006, when they launched simultaneous attacks on the F-FDTL, and the Military Commander’s house. It looks like the same kind of tactics that were employed during the crisis, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was basically Reinado’s way of reigniting the crisis to gain some relevancy again.
You also have to look at what happened last time Reinado was about to surrender. Back in early 2007, he had exhausted all his negotiating opportunities and had decided to come in. After having escaped from jail, and being on the run for almost 4 months – he’d been negotiating with the Government, they hadn’t really bothered him, they hadn’t tried to arrest him – he’d said he was willing to give himself up.
But then what does he do? He goes down to the border, surrounds a police post and seizes about 36 weapons and about 40,000 rounds of ammunition.
It was at that stage that Gusmao authorised the Australian operation to go and get him, which of course prompted him to escape again.
This latest attack is very consistent with how this guy has operated in the past. He’d negotiated and negotiated with the government, and then when it got to a point where they couldn’t really negotiate any more without him actually surrendering, he’d go and do something like this.
It surprised many that Reinado was not caught during over a year and half of truancy. Is it true that the authorities were just turning a blind eye?
Reinado escaped from prison in August 2006, but there was never any serious attempt to capture him until after he went to the border post in early 2007 and stole those weapons. It was then, once he stole the weapons, that Gusmao was finally forced to act. Finally he turned around and ordered the Australians to do something.
The Australians followed his orders, and did try to catch him, but Reinado escaped – it’s not quite clear how or why. Pretty soon after that the order was given by Horta and Gusmao to call off the search for him.
You have to remember they were just about to face an election, both of them were trying to court political parties such as the Democratic Party, who were calling for the hunt for Reinado to be called off.
The search was really only called off for political gain.
Why did Reinado launch such an audacious attack?
It was the act of a desperate man. It really was his last card.
Horta and Xanana had opened up separate negotiations with a large group of military "petitioners", and this meant that Reinado – who had been claiming to represent all the petitioners – was actually losing a bit of his support base. If a deal had been made by Horta and Gusmao that defused the whole petition issue, then Reinado would have been left with just the 20 or so guys that he was with.
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