FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Death squad allegations against East Timor PM Mari Alkatiri
, June 24, 2006
East Timor's Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, is under mounting pressure to answer allegations by former East Timorese guerrillas that he recruited and armed a squad to intimidate and assassinate his political enemies.East Timor's Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, is under mounting pressure to answer allegations by former East Timorese guerrillas that he recruited and armed a squad to intimidate and assassinate his political enemies.
Following fighting between rival units in the Army, the killing by soldiers of some unarmed East Timorese policemen, the breakdown of law and order and widespread street violence and arson, an armed group of 30 men who had fought in the independence struggle against Indonesia told an ABC reporter in East Timor that they had been recruited to "eliminate" Alkatiri's opponents.
The armed men said they had been recruited by former Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato, who was forced to resign in early June.
Lobato is a member of Fretilin, the governing party in East Timor. He spent the period of Indonesian occupation in communist Angola and, on his return to East Timor from Angola, Alkatiri appointed him to the sensitive Ministry of the Interior.Violence
This confirms statements made by Mark Aarons, son of a former general-secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, and a long-time Fretilin supporter. Writing in The Australian
, before the recent allegations were made public, Aarons said that "elements of the [Timorese defence] forces within Lobato's circle have been heavily involved in the violence." (The Australian
, May 29, 2006).
Mr Alkatiri denied the allegations that he had hired a hit squad. The Foreign and Defence Minister, José Ramos-Horta, said he found the allegations impossible to believe, but nevertheless, there should be an independent investigation.
He then formally asked the United Nations to investigate the recent spate of violence in Dili, which had left at least 20 people dead and hundreds injured.
Separately, soldiers who had been sacked by the Alkatiri Government alleged that forces loyal to the Prime Minister had shot and killed some 60 unarmed civilians, and buried them in a secret grave outside Dili. At the time of writing, no bodies had been recovered.
Separately, the leader of one of East Timor's opposition parties, the Democratic Party's Fernando de Araujo, told Australian reporters he feared for his life after police told him they had orders from "high levels in the Government" to shoot him. His home was torched in the violence.
The police did not say who in the Government issued the order, but Mr de Araujo said he believed it came from Mr Alkatiri.
A further problem in East Timor is that weapons from both the army and the police have been distributed in the community.
Australian and international troops have been conducting an urgent check of inventories of weapons in Dili and Baucau, to try to determine exactly how many weapons have passed out of the control of the Government to gangs or extra-military squads.
The United Nations has announced that it will organise both emergency relief for the tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the violence, and that it would authorise the establishment of a new UN-authorised police force, while the existing dysfunctional police force is reorganised.Special police force
Mr Ramos-Horta said that the most urgent need was for a two-year police deployment. He told Associated Press, "For the immediate future, we need a special police force ... that is, a rapid-reaction force to stop riots, hooligans, looting."
Ramos-Horta said that the police force had "almost completely disintegrated" and reorganising it would take time.
What is not clear is whether anyone in the East Timorese Government, from the Prime Minister on down, would accept responsibility for the military collapse, and continued threats of violence against opponents of Alkatiri.
Nor is it clear that anyone will ever be held accountable for the violence which has forced thousands of people from their homes, and severely damaged East Timor's economy and its reputation.