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    Southeast Asia
     Feb 13, 2008
East Timor reels from coup attempt
By Kafil Yamin

JAKARTA - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta was reported to be in stable condition after emergency surgery in an Australian hospital for gunshot wounds he sustained on Monday. Nonetheless, his fledgling country appears to be heading for a critical political phase.

The Nobel peace laureate was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by a group of rebel soldiers led by Alfredo Reinado at his home in Dili, East Timor's capital. Reinado was killed by Horta's guards in an exchange of gunfire.

Rebels led by Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, Reinado's second-in-command when he was head of the Military Police regiment, also on Monday staged an ambush against Prime Minister Jose



Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, on a rural highway. The Timorese independence hero escaped unharmed.

Much now depends on the measures the Dili government takes in the wake of the failed coup attempt. Ina Befride, a known close associate of Reinado, was quoted as saying that if the government continued to invite more foreign military intervention, the situation would likely worsen.

Australian special troops began arriving in Dili on Tuesday to reinforce international forces already stationed in the country to help implement a state of national emergency declared soon after the assassination attempt.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony with almost 1 million people, became independent in 2002, officially ending more than two decades of Indonesian occupation. But the new country quickly fractured along regional lines in 2006, where splits in the security forces triggered violence that prompted foreign, mainly Australian, armed intervention.

Many were opposed to Gusmao's decision to call in Australian troops and to hunt down Reinado and many will likely take umbrage at the government's decision to request more Australian troops in reaction to Monday's assassination attempt. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Monday that he would be sending more troops and police to East Timor.

Rudd will also travel to Dili this week in response to a request from Gusmao. "My reason for doing that is to reinforce in person Australia's resolve, Australia's determination to stand with East Timor at this time of deep challenge to its democratic processes," Rudd was quoted as saying.

About 800 Australian troops are already on peacekeeping duties in East Timor. Rudd said the National Security Committee of the cabinet had authorized a "substantial and immediate" reinforcement of Australian defense force personnel, as well as an additional contingent of Australian federal police officials.

The Australian-led international security stabilization force in East Timor has already secured key buildings throughout Dili and increased its presence in the districts. But the deployment of more Australian troops poses a danger to the standing of Timorese politicians in general and the Horta government in particular.

It means they must rely on foreign forces to protect themselves from their people who are fighting for a better situation, according to Filomeno de Haornay, secretary general of the Uni Timor Aswain, which groups together large sections of the Timorese community in Indonesia.

Moreover, Reinado has a large number of supporters, said de Haornay. "His death will spark massive resistance. If the government is not smart enough in handling this, things will go worse," he maintained.

Others, however, are more sanguine.

Taufik Darusman, a politician with the New Indonesia Party, does not believe that resistance will intensify after Reinado's death. "There is no other resistance leader as charismatic as Reinado. The group is now losing momentum," said Darusman. "The resistance will subside, but the dispatch of too many foreign troops will provoke resistance," he added.

Reinado first led a group of about 600 rebel soldiers, who broke away from the armed forces because of alleged regional discrimination in promotions. After deserting the East Timor army they set up their own headquarters some 25 kilometers south of Dili, from where they launched an anti-government campaign.

To quell violent demonstrations in Dili in March 2006, the security forces shot and killed five people, which in turn sparked more violence, rioting and looting for several days. This was followed by fighting among groups of the security forces that left more than 37 people dead between April and May 2006.

The Dili government in response brought in international peacekeepers to restore order and hunt down Reinado. On March 5, 2007, Australian troops raided Reinado's hideout on a hilltop base, but Reinado and an unknown number of his armed men escaped despite the Australians being heavily armed and blockading the base for six days.

Reinado's escape emboldened his supporters, who have often chanted "long live Reinado" as they fought pitched battles with United Nations peacekeepers in and around Dili. Rioters recently smashed cars and government buildings in Dili and Gleno, a small town in East Timor's coffee-growing western mountains, where Reinado grew up.

Yanto Soegiarto, a senior journalist and editor of the Globe, an English-language business magazine, offered a simple, if not controversial, solution to the problem: "Give the Indonesian military a chance to restore security and stability in Timor and the situation will improve."

"Indonesia and East Timor are now in a brotherly relationship. The Timorese will see Indonesian troops more as their new brother compared to the Western-style, heavily-armed white soldiers who always try to look superior," Soegiarto maintained.

Whether a contingent of Indonesian troops could better restore order is at best a wild card. The international community once saw Indonesian presence as the core of East Timor's problems. Now they can see that the situation has gone from bad to worse under a democratically elected government propped by international security forces, Soegiarto said.

(Inter Press Service)


Aussies outstay their East Timor welcome (Feb 5, '08)

Wobbly democracy for East Timor (Jul 11, '08)

East Timor riots expose a political divide (May 18, '06)


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