The E Timor Coup?

Right up until his resignation on Monday 26 June East Timor’s former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has insisted that a series of allegations against him were politically motivated. He blamed opposition groups within East Timor that had foreign backing and said this crisis was a foreign backed coup.

 In a wide ranging interview last week he blamed opposition groups for the breakdown of law and order last month that led to at least 130 000 East Timorese fleeing their homes and the total collapse of the East Timorese police force. He said these people had repeatedly tried to convince prominent commanders in the East Timorese armed forces to overthrow his government in an  armed coup. When this failed, 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)’ he said. “They tried to convince the command to order and participate in a coup. They failed.’ It was then, he said, 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 then what they did is they tried to break F-FDTL and they did  it by  bringing out of the barracks almost 600 which they called the  petitioners.” It was the sacking of 600 soldiers from the tiny countries western regions that precipitated the latest violence. 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 fighting Indonesia’s 24 year occupation held out. 

Senior sources within the command of F-FDTL confirmed that Alkatiri’s claims were genuine. They say that not one but three separate approaches had  been made to the leadership to lead a coup against Alkatiri in the past eighteen months. I was able to confirm that following the weeks of mass demonstrations  against Alkatiri’s government in April 2005 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. Again early this year he was approached and requested 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. 

 For the first time Alkatiri has given his version of what exactly led to the chaos in the capital 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.

 He 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, Loromunu, 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, some organisations, 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.’

This was not the first time Alkatiri had called the  attempts to oust him an attempted coup. He continued to deny the accusations against him and his government and dismissed them as part  of a misinformation campaign run by his opposition. He said the  campaign was being run by conservative elements in institutions  both in East Timor and abroad.

 Allegations against the government of Alkatiri have proved difficult to verify. So called massacres and mass graves perpetrated by the Armed Forces apparently at the Prime Ministers request have failed to materialize and have proved to be nothing more than rumours. The most interesting allegation and the one that led directly to Alkatiri’s resignation was the existence of a group of thirty armed men under the leadership of Vincente “Rai los’ de Concecao in the mountains above the town of Liquica, thirty kilometers to the west of the capital.He claimed to have received rifles from Alkatiri and the then interior minister Rogerio Lobato, who has since resigned and is now under house arrest.

De Concecao 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 brief a meeting with them in which he told them only to enforce  security and not to kill opponents as they  claimed. 

 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 “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 23rd and 24th of May that began the violence. Perhaps the mysterious two foreign nationals and local leaders who approached the military had finally found their man in the East Timorese forces to carry out their coup.

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