Amidst the emergence of allegations that Timor Leste Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri organised death squads to eliminate his political opponents in the lead-up to next year’s national elections, rebel leaders are seeking greater power for the President through partial suspension of the constitution.
An armed group of told an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reporter last week that they had been recruited by former interior minister Rogerio Lobato on behalf of Alkatiri to 'eliminate' his political opponents. The men said they had not killed anyone but were told to eliminate Mr Alkatiri's foes in the lead-up to national elections due to be held next year.
According to the ABC, the men were former members of the Falantil resistance army that fought for independence from Indonesia. Their alleged targets supposedly included some 600 soldiers from the west of the country who were sacked from the 1,400-member national army by Alkatiri after going on strike, claiming discrimination by officers from the east. The mutineers were later joined by fellow westerners in the police force and their protests erupted into violence, with pro-Alkatiri forces allegedly opening fire on demonstrators.
The ABC said the men met their reporter armed with 18 assault rifles, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, two vehicles and uniforms they said had been given to them by Lobato before he was forced to resign late last month over the country's violent political crisis.
Timor Leste Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has called for an urgent investigation into these allegations against Alkatiri. He said the charges were extremely serious and emphasised the need for a prompt and independent investigation initiated by President Xanana Gusmao. For the probe to be effective and credible, he said it would have to be carried out with international assistance, perhaps with a system provided by some of the embassies based in East Timor or the United Nations.
Ramos-Horta, a widely respected Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has also taken on the role of defence minister after the previous minister was forced to resign for his role in the ongoing crisis, said he was aware of reports that Lobato had handed out weapons to groups of civilians. He said one such group had apparently been subsequently fired upon by the army in an incident that could have led them to turn against the Prime Minister. But he said Alkatiri had to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
Meanwhile, rebel leaders in East Timor are planning a conference to seek ways of modifying the country's constitution to allow greater power for Gusmao. Major Alfredo Reinado, who says he is in command of the sacked soldiers at the root of the unrest, said that he and his allies as well as several unnamed intellectuals, are planning to hold a conference within a week to discuss the issue for national unity, as so far, there had not been much progress made in trying to solve the nation's problems. He hopes a conference may help find a solution.
Manuel Tilman, another rebel, told AFP that "our initiative is to find a way in this constitution that is able to solve our problems." Reinado and Timlam said that Timor Leste must suspend part of its constitution to allow for the president to assume more powers.
Timor's death squad shocker (Today/AFP, 10 June 2006)
East Timor rebel leaders want greater powers for president (ANTARA, 11 June 2006)