Former PM Alkatiri claims alleged assassination attempt on Xanana Gusmao was faked

WSWS : News & Analysis : Asia : East Timor
By Patrick O’Connor
8 April 2008

Mari Alkatiri, former East Timorese prime minister and
current general secretary of the Fretilin opposition
party, has alleged that the reported assassination
attempt on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on February 11
was a fake. In an interview with the Portuguese News
Network, he claimed that Fretilin has photographs
showing that the vehicle, which supposedly came under
fire, initially only had two bullet holes but later
appeared in public with 16. Alkatiri also raised a
number of serious questions regarding the related
shooting of President Jose Ramos-Horta and the killing
of rebel major Alfredo Reinado.

The former prime minister’s statements cast further
doubt over the official explanation of the events of
February 11. According to Prime Minister Gusmao and
the Australian and international media, Reinado was
killed while he was leading an attempted coup or
coordinated assassination against both Ramos-Horta and
Gusmao. This, however, remains the most unlikely
scenario.

Reinado, who with several of his men had mutinied in
May 2006 and joined in armed attacks against
government forces, had been wanted on murder and
firearms charges. In mid-January, however, the former
major reached an agreement with Ramos-Horta under
which he would surrender to the police in return for a
full presidential pardon. Around the same time,
Reinado publicly released a DVD in which he bitterly
denounced Gusmao, his former patron, accusing him of
directly instigating the 2006 military split that led
to the Australian military intervention and the
ousting of Alkatiri’s Fretilin administration.

On February 7, 2008 Ramos-Horta convened a meeting at
his residence involving Gusmao, Alkatiri, and other
parliamentarians. The president told the participants
that he agreed with Fretilin’s demand for fresh
elections. Formed in August 2007, the Gusmao-led
coalition government had been wracked by internal
divisions and was becoming increasingly unpopular.

Taken together, these circumstances render the
official “coup” explanation of the events of February
11 entirely implausible. Reinado supposedly attempted
to assassinate a president who was preparing to both
grant him a full pardon for his crimes and who had
decided to support efforts to oust Gusmao’s
administration through new elections. Attempts by the
Australian media to explain these contradictions have
rested on the claim that Reinado was simply insane.
An alternative and more coherent possibility is that
Reinado, and perhaps Ramos-Horta also, was set up for
assassination by Gusmao or forces close to Gusmao,
with the likely support, or at least knowledge of,
Australian personnel in Dili. Canberra and Gusmao have
both benefited from the events of February 11. The
Timorese government has enacted a series of
authoritarian measures to prop up its rule, while the
Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has used
the alleged coup attempt as a pretext for dispatching
more troops to bolster its neo-colonial occupation of
the oil-rich state.

In his interview with the Portuguese News Network
(PNN), published March 4, Alkatiri described the
alleged ambush on Gusmao as a “cheap fiction”. He
claimed that a Fretilin representative took
photographs of Gusmao’s vehicle with two bullet holes
as it was parked on the street. Later, however, the
same vehicle was shown in a ditch with 16 bullet
holes.

The Fretilin leader also questioned the circumstances
of Reinado’s killing. “How is it that Alfredo Reinado
is going to attack the person [Ramos-Horta] who was
trying to find an elegant solution for him?” he asked.
“Who was attacked first, was it Reinado or the
President of the Republic? If it was Reinado,
according to the first facts, he would have been dead
for an hour before. If he was dead before, why did
Reinado’s men and those of the President of the
Republic stay looking at each other until the
President arrived?”

Alkatiri speaks with the World Socialist Web Site

The World Socialist Web Site contacted Alkatiri on
April 2. He said that he had nothing to add to the PNN
interview, but also made clear that he was not
retracting his previous statements.

Referring to the agreement between Ramos-Horta and
Reinado reached in January, Alkatiri stated, “This is
why it is very strange, very ironic, that Reinado came
down to attack exactly the person that was trying his
best to work with Reinado”. The WSWS asked if Fretilin
would publicly release its photographs of Gusmao’s
vehicle. “I am still waiting for the investigators to
ask me about it and then I will deliver them to them,”
he replied.

In his interview with PNN, Alkatiri demanded an
independent commission of inquiry, excluding personnel
from Australia. “Countries that have a presence here,
in the area of justice or advisors in the area of
security, cannot have their elements make up a part of
this commission,” he told the WSWS, adding that the
February attacks occurred, “with all of this
[military] presence, and if the investigation
incriminates the international presence or that of the
UN, the tendency naturally is to cover it up”. Asked
about the FBI investigators currently working on the
case, Alkatiri replied: “In the final analysis, they
are being used. Even if they want to be serious, they
can’t be.”

Alkatiri declined to tell the WSWS whether he believed
that Australian forces were involved in the February
11 violence, and instead repeated his demand for an
international investigation. “Everything has to be
investigated, that’s why we made it clear that an
international commission for investigation can never
include people from countries that are already
operating in Timor-Leste.”

In the PNN interview, Alkatiri clearly implied that
forces within the government may have instigated the
double attack. “The President of the Republic
[Ramos-Horta] had clearly said that there would be
early elections in 2009,” he said. “It is clear that
those who govern did not like this. These doubts need
to be clarified for the good of the persons who are
involved. If I were in Xanana’s place, I would be the
first to say that I wanted this investigation to be
conducted in an independent form.”

When we asked if he was suggesting Gusmao was
personally responsible for the February 11 attacks,
Alkatiri replied “No, I didn’t suggest any name [but]
I think the investigation will really make it clear.”
He refused to be drawn on why the Gusmao government
has blocked the formation of an international
investigation.

He denounced the “state of siege”, under which a
strict curfew is in place and meetings and
demonstrations banned, as “bullshit”. “It’s really a
way for the government to dictate its rule, he told
us. “This is not a rule of law, it is a rule by law;
they are using their majority to dictate their own
rules.”

Speaking to the PNN, he had earlier elaborated: “The
emergency is being used to intimidate people. The
population will get tired of these measures,
particularly in the neighbourhoods of Dili. We are
already returning to the time of Indonesia, with
people not sleeping at home. In the neighbourhoods of
Tunanara and Pité there are young people who are
afraid that the police will come looking for them at
night…. Those in power must believe that the best
form of controlling this population is to put fear
into them, [to deter] demonstrations or any other
violent action. There is no right to demonstrate,
there is no right to hold public meetings. I am
accustomed to meeting in my house with many people,
and now there are days when the police come by here to
ask my security what it is that we are doing.”

Alkatiri told the WSWS that the ruling coalition “will
pay their bill for this” at the next election, which
he expects to be held in early 2009. The Fretilin
leader said that when he last spoke with Ramos-Horta,
three or four weeks ago, the president remained
committed to bringing forward the date of the vote.
Asked how he thought Gusmao would respond, he replied:
“He has no options, he has no options. He has no
authority to govern this country, he was not elected.
We need a democratic country, not a country that is
dictated by a former guerrilla.”

Canberra’s role

WSWS asked Alkatiri about the present role of the
1,000-troop Australian-led International Stabilisation
Force. He replied, “The problem here, the main problem
here, is who commands whom? Who is really commanding
the force? United Nations, the government, the
Australian brigadier, I still don’t know…. The only
thing I can say is that the force came here in 2006
under my request, at that time signed by President
Xanana [Gusmao] and the president of the parliament,
Lu-Olo [Guterres], but since then things are
developing in such a way that I think that we need to
know clearly who is commanding the force.”

On the 2006 Australian intervention, which Alkatiri
defended as a means of ending the police-military
conflict, the following exchange occurred:

WSWS: If it is true that as Reinado alleged, Gusmao
instigated that conflict as part of a coup attempt
against your administration—

Alkatiri: If it is true, if it is true, it will
explain a lot of things.

WSWS: And it would also explain a lot of things if it
is true that Canberra was involved in that as well.

Alkatiri: It will explain a lot of things, everything,
things that have developed domestically in
Timor-Leste, with some kind of interference from
outside…. I would like to also stress here that
2006, Prime Minister Howard was the only one that has
made clear, very publicly clear, that he would prefer
me to step down. It is already a way to interfere in
the affairs of another country.

The former prime minister then said that with the
election of the new Labor government: “I think we have
a lot of space, political space, to work together. I
am sure that a lot of changes will come. It is still
too early to talk about but I am sure, yes.” Asked
about what changes he anticipated, Alkatiri replied,
“Mutual respect between Australia and Timor-Leste and
other countries is one thing, and of course more
cooperation, a bit more cooperation for the advantage
of both countries.” And on Rudd’s response to the
events of February 11, when the new Labor prime
minister immediately deployed additional Australian
troops, including elite SAS personnel? “He was in the
government for less than 100 days and he had to
respond as he did, but I am sure [that] sooner than
later a lot of things change.”

In reality, the Rudd Labor government will maintain
the same strategic orientation as the former Howard
government. The Labor Party has a filthy record on
East Timor, including the Whitlam government’s active
encouragement of Indonesia’s invasion in 1975 and the
Hawke-Keating government’s negotiation of the 1989
Timor Gap Treaty, under which Canberra and Jakarta
carved up Timor’s oil and gas resources in violation
of international law. The death of Indonesia’s former
dictator Suharto earlier this year saw the squalid
spectacle of past and present Labor ministers paying
tribute to the mass murderer.

During Howard’s 11-year term in office, the Labor
Party backed the government’s every move in Timor. The
Labor opposition supported the Howard government’s
crude strong-arm tactics during negotiations on the
exploitation of the Timor Sea’s petroleum with the
former Alkatiri administration, at one point even
joining the government in ejecting Greens’ Senator Bob
Brown from parliament after he issued some limited
criticisms of Canberra’s stance. Labor endorsed both
the 1999 and 2006 military interventions, which were
driven by the Australian ruling elite’s determination
to secure control over the lion’s share of Timor’s oil
and gas and to shut out rival powers, above all
Portugal and China. Rudd’s additional troop deployment
in February was motivated by his determination to
further advance this neo-colonial strategy.

Media blackout

Not a single media outlet in Australia has reported
Alkatiri’s statements to the PNN. This extraordinary
self-censorship is indicative of the critical role
played by the establishment media as an active
accomplice of Australian imperialism in East Timor and
throughout the South Pacific. It continues to repeat
the official “coup” and “assassination” version of the
events of February 11—which virtually nobody in Dili
believes—as good coin. Elementary questions have still
not been raised, obvious avenues for potential
investigation ignored, and important statements from
leading public figures suppressed.

Alkatiri is not alone in raising serious questions
regarding Reinado’s killing and the alleged ambush on
Gusmao’s vehicle.

Mario Carrascalao—the former Indonesian-appointed
Timorese governor and now leader of the Social
Democrat Party that forms part of Gusmao’s coalition
government—gave an interview with Portugal’s Lusa news
that was published on February 19. Carrascalao said
that “strange things” were happening in East Timor,
and questioned how it was that Gusmao’s vehicle
supposedly came under fire without anyone being hurt.
“Whoever knows that road [where the alleged attack
occurred], knows that nobody escapes an ambush,” he
said. “[But] nobody was injured.”

Carrascalao also said he believed that Reinado did not
attack Ramos-Horta and that someone had instead set a
“trap” for the former major. He raised the possibility
that either “the Australians”, the petitioners, or
another section of the Timorese military was
responsible. “Any of these three hypotheses is
feasible,” he concluded.

As with Alkatiri’s allegations, no section of the
Australian media reported Carrascalao’s remarks.
Carrascalao also provided a number of details on the
meeting held at Ramos-Horta’s residence on February 7,
where he was one of the participating
parliamentarians. Along with government MPs, a dozen
senior Fretilin representatives attended. Carrascalao
told Lusa that after an hour of discussion,
Ramos-Horta declared that he no longer believed that
Gusmao’s government was capable of resolving Timor’s
problems and that fresh elections ought to be held.
Gusmao responded by insisting that his government
would continue to govern alone. Ramos-Horta concluded
by saying that further meetings should be held to try
to reach an agreement.

These meetings, however, never eventuated. The
so-called coup attempt occurred four days later,
followed by Gusmao’s announcement of the “state of
siege”.

Ramos-Horta questions Australian military response

Late last month President Ramos-Horta gave several
interviews, providing his first account of what led up
to his wounding on February 11. While Ramos-Horta,
like Alkatiri, undoubtedly knows much more than he is
publicly saying about the circumstances surrounding
the alleged dual assassination attempt, his statements
are significant.

Speaking with Fairfax’s Lindsay Murdoch, he explained
that he was on a morning walk when he first heard two
sets of gunshots. Murdoch reported: “Horta said he had
initially looked at two Timorese army soldiers who
were with him and said ‘yes, the shots are from the
house’. But he then encountered the Dili manager of
the ANZ bank, who was riding a bike.”

Ramos-Horta told Murdoch: “He [the manager] said in a
casual and relaxed way that the ISF [Australian-led
International Stabilisation Force] was doing an
exercise near my house. Well, that being the case, I
felt relaxed and decided to go home.” In another
interview, with East Timor’s TVTL, Ramos-Horta said:
“He [the ANZ manager] told me that the ISF were having
an exercise near my residence. He asked whether I was
informed about it or not, but I replied to him that I
had never received any information that [sic] what the
ISF were doing near my house. I became angry because
if the ISF were doing exercises near my house without
my knowledge, it is a bit [sic] mistake.”

According to the president, he then approached his
house and saw a bullet-riddled Timorese army vehicle
but did not see any Australian troops. By this time
Reinado was already dead after being shot in the head,
according to some accounts, up to an hour earlier.
Ramos-Horta then encountered what he called “one of
Alfredo’s men in full [military] uniform” who shot him
in the back as he turned to flee. Ramos-Horta was hit
with “dum-dum” bullets—which are banned under the
Geneva Convention because they expand and fragment on
impact—and later underwent six operations in an
Australian hospital.

Ramos-Horta told ABC Radio that immediately after
being shot, “I heard them [the soldiers with him]
cursing the ANZ bank representative, blaming him for
what happened because he misled us into going to the
house. Because of that I was worried that they could
take reprisals against him, so I told them, ‘no, don’t
think that,’ because he also didn’t know, he thought
it was a military exercise because it never occurred
to him, or to me, that my house was under attack.”

Ramos-Horta raised further questions regarding the
Australian military’s failure to capture those
involved in the shoot-out. “I didn’t see any ISF
elements or UNPOL [police] in the area …
normally they are supposed to show up instantly, and
in this case of extreme gravity they would normally
seal off the entire area, blocking the exit route of
the attackers. That didn’t happen. As far as I know,
no hostile pursuit of the attackers was made for
several days. How did Mr Alfredo Reinado happen to be
totally undetected in Dili when the ISF was supposed
to be keeping an eye on his movements?”

Ramos-Horta has declared his support for a commission
of inquiry to investigate these questions.

Angelita Pires

Asked by ABC Radio why he thought the rebel soldiers
would want to shoot him, Ramos-Horta replied: “Not the
slightest idea. Because I was the only leader in the
country they said they trusted. Mr Alfredo Reinado
told me a month before, and he told all other
individuals who talked with him, that I was the only
leader he knew who was not involved in the crisis of
2006. I was the only one they trusted and I was the
only one who spent months often travelling to the bush
area, to the mountains, to the valleys, meeting with
them to try to find a dignified solution for the
country, that is acceptable to all.”

Ramos-Horta nevertheless insisted that the attack was
an assassination attempt. Reinado, he told the Fairfax
press, “was a very unstable person, never consistent
with what he said … he does something else the next
day while under the influence of his intimate
associate and lover Ms Angie Pires and others who were
behind him. While I managed to create a certain
climate of confidence among him and his men, there
were some elements behind him who would manipulate and
influence the situation.”

Angelita Pires, a dual East Timorese-Australian
citizen, acted as Reinado’s lawyer and representative
in Dili. Arrested on February 17, she is alleged to
have known about preparations for the alleged attacks
on Ramos-Horta and Gusmao, but has denied the charges.
She has also released a public statement rejecting
Ramos-Horta’s allegation that she had manipulated
Reinado.

When the WSWS asked Alkatiri about Pires’s role, he
replied: “I don’t want to really comment on a single
person, because a lot of people, even the most
important people, were always with Reinado.”

As with so many aspects of this affair, the closer one
examines Pires and her connections, the murkier the
situation appears.

Pires, who spent most of her life in Australia,
appears to have had a very close working relationship
with senior Australian officials in Dili. Until
February 1—ten days before the shoot-out at
Ramos-Horta’s residence—she was an employee of an
AusAID contractor, Enterprise Challenge Fund (ECF). An
article in the Australian on February 20 stated:
“Local officials claimed she was dismissed from the
ECF program because of her alleged links with rebel
leader Alfredo Reinado. It is believed AusAID had
raised concerns about Ms Pires late last month, but
that a decision had already been made to sack the
42-year-old by the program’s manager, Coffey
International, on the advice of their local officials.
AusAID last night confirmed Ms Pires had a history of
working for Australian-funded contractors in East
Timor, but declined to comment on the circumstances
surrounding her dismissal.”

Pires claims to have acted as a go-between,
coordinating Reinado’s movements with the Timorese
security agencies and the Australian military. The ISF
confirmed this when it told the Australian that it had
met her “in a public place in Dili” in January to
ensure that Reinado’s men and the ISF knew each
other’s general movements. The Australian military
also said that she was “not a paid informant of the
ISF and no money or gratuities were ever passed to Ms
Pires”.

This statement appeared to be in response to rumours
in Dili regarding the source of a large sum of cash
reportedly found on Reinado’s dead body. “It was not
$29,000. It was not $31,000. It was exactly $30,000,
in $US100 notes,” the Australian quoted a senior East
Timorese government source as saying in an article
published March 18.

The same article revealed that Gusmao held Pires
responsible for the break-down in negotiations between
Reinado and the government that preceded the public
release of the former major’s DVD accusing the prime
minister of instigating the 2006 crisis. According to
the Australian’s government source, a meeting between
Gusmao and Reinado in Dili had been arranged in early
December, but the former major never showed up.
“Angelita Pires called and said, ‘He’s not coming,’”
the source said. “The prime minister was very upset
and very disturbed that a third party was throwing
stones into this. Alfredo never called us to explain.
She called.

She was saying the real plan was to arrest Reinado and
then shoot him dead in front of the prime minister.”

Pires has reportedly indicated that she believes
Reinado was subsequently set up on February 11.
According to the Age: “After the attacks, Pires told
friends Reinado was lured to Mr Ramos Horta’s house to
be assassinated because he was about to reveal plots
by powerful political figures.”

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World Socialist Web Site
All rights reserved

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