Gusmao holds talks with sacked E Timor soldiers
Posted 1 hour 18 minutes ago
East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has begun talks with former soldiers whose dismissal sparked protests that led to bloodshed in the tiny country last year.
In June 2006 the government of then-prime minister Mari Alkatiri sacked 600 soldiers and more than one third of the country’s defence force, after they had lodged a petition alleging discrimination in the institution.
The sacking prompted a series of protests that degenerated into factional violence, leaving 37 people dead and forced more than 100,000 from their homes.
Some of the sacked soldiers had joined the rebellious former military police chief Alfredo Reinado, who led an armed revolt against the previous government.
Mr Gusmao warned the sacked soldiers during the meeting not to join Mr Reinado.
“I want to talk to those of you who don’t have weapons. I am representing the people through the election and who does Alfredo [Reinado] represent?” he said.
“I am the one who defends the petitioners because they are not the ones who burned houses and made disturbances during last year’s crisis,” he said.
Former major Marcos Tara, who led the group who met Mr Gusmao, said he wanted the ex-soldiers to be reinstated but regretted the fact that few of his colleagues had turned up.
“I just want to open the way for the petitioners to have a dialogue so that they can regain their dignity in the military and obtain aid from the government,” he said.
He said those who had failed to show up for the talks might have been intimidated by others who opposed dialogue with the government.
Rebel leader Mr Reinado said in July that he was prepared to hold talks with the new Government provided international forces sent in to restore order after last year’s violence left.
Last year he escaped along with 50 other inmates from a prison where he was being held on charges of involvement in the violence.