Timor Rebel’s Surrender Talks

The Australian

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Paul Toohey

THE East Timorese Government believes rebel leader Gastao Salsinha is on the brink of surrender, but needs to be persuaded he will not be tortured or bashed if he comes in.

On Saturday, four rebels involved in the February 11 attacks on East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao surrendered.

The attack on Mr Ramos Horta’s villa outside the capital, Dili, left the President with life-threatening injuries, while Mr Gusmao was not injured during an assault on his convoy barely an hour later. The attacks were carried out by renegade former soldiers, including Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in the gunfight at the President’s villa.

The four rebels who surrendered — known by their nicknames Aliko, Apau, Apai and Adolfo — handed in four weapons, including a machinegun, to East Timorese taskforce negotiators. On Sunday, another two men came in, leaving an estimated 23 rebels — including several loyalist civilians — still hiding in the west of the country.

“Salsinha is talking again,” said a senior government source, referring to the stop-start nature of the negotiations.

“He wants assurances about how he’s going to be handled in custody and what fair treatment he will have in a court trial.

“He says he wants justice, but he can expect the same fair treatment the others have had.

“Negotiators want to assure him he will not come to physical harm. And for him to be hurt or beaten is out of the question — there are so many people around. There will be no illegal treatment while he’s being interrogated.”

It is not known if the six rebels who came in at the weekend were in Salsinha’s band and were permitted by their leader to surrender, although The Australian understands they may have split from the larger group earlier.

The first rebel to surrender, Amaro Suarez da Costa, or Susar, has admitted being at the President’s compound and has told investigators he fired two shots at the wheels of a jeep that was passing by with an army lieutenant at the wheel.

Susar denied firing the shot that hit the driver in the head, causing him to be airlifted to Royal Darwin Hospital two days after the badly wounded President was flown to Darwin.

Susar also reportedly denied any knowledge of what Reinado had in mind that morning.

Reinado took one group to the President’s compound while Salsinha is said to have conducted the ambush on the Prime Minister’s convoy shortly afterwards.


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