Associates of East Timor’s former rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who were involved in an attack on the country’s top political leaders, say they never had orders to kill them and claim they were shot at first.
In an exclusive interview with SBS’s Dateline program Gastao Salsinha, once deputy to Reinado and now rebel leader, told journalist Mark Davis that, contrary to reports, the alleged attacks were not assassination attempts.
On February 11 this year Reinado and his followers left their mountain hide-out and came to President Jose Ramos-Horta’s home in Dili. A fire-fight that ensued left the president seriously wounded and the rebel leader dead.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was confronted in a separate but related incident. He escaped unharmed.
Salsinha claims he was sent to Mr Gusmao’s residence on that morning, but not to attack the Prime Minister.
“Major Alfredo Reinado did not say we were going to capture Xanana, the prime minister, or to kill him. He didn’t say. He only said that we should go to the Prime Minister’s place,” Salsinha told Dateline.
He said the rebel leader’s order was not clear.
“At 9:30 (the night before) Major Alfredo came to our place. He came drunk and told me to prepare the soldiers to go to Dili. That is what he said but he had no special instructions that we were going to kill anyone or take up arms,” Salsinha said.
“When we were at the back of the prime minister’s house we didn’t shoot one bullet to the house or to the prime minister,” he said.
It’s believed that Reinado was angry that Mr Ramos-Horta had apparently backed away from an amnesty for rebel soldiers and he wanted to confront the leader.
Another rebel, known as Teboko, says the order from Reinado was not to attack. Teboko was sent to President Ramos-Horta’s residence on February 11.
He told Dateline they went for an “appointment” with the president and said the rebels did not fire the first shot.
“As we know it was the FDTL that shoot us first, and killed Major Alfredo and the member Leopoldino,” Teboko told Dateline.
While recovering from his shooting injuries in Australia Mr Ramos-Horta blamed Reinado’s girlfriend, Angelita Pires, for influencing the rebel leader’s actions.
In her first interview since the shooting, Pires told SBS she had nothing to do with the attacks and that she now fears for her life. She remains a “person of interest” to police.
She denies allegations that she manipulated Reinado and said that the rebel leader looked forward to being pardoned.
“Well I think he was a decent person,” she told Dateline. “I think he had the right intentions … but I don’t know him in a military sense, I don’t know what occurred,” she said in reference to the February 11 attacks.
Salsinha is on the run and is still wanted by East Timorese police. But he says he will surrender to President Ramos-Horta, who is due to leave Australia this week to return to East Timor.
“I’m waiting for the president to come and say one or two words and after that we can come down,” he said. “If we surrender early this government could condemn us and could take us to prison.”
Dateline’s Mark Davis investigates ‘The shooting of Jose Ramos Horta’ Wednesday April 16 at 8:30pm
April 16, 2008
Timor rebels deny assassination plot;
Troops fired first, says Reinado aide
Lindsay Murdoch, Dili
REBELS who attacked East Timor’s top two political leaders had no instructions to kill them but had been ordered to Dili by their leader, Alfredo Reinado, for prearranged meetings, two rebels say.
Gastao Salsinha, the leader of a group of rebels being hunted in East Timor’s mountains, says Reinado was “drunk and angry” when he called his men together at 9.30 the night before the attacks and told them he was taking them to Dili for meetings with President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
“He did not have special instructions that we were going to kill anyone or take up arms or anything like that,” Salsinha says in an interview with SBS’s Dateline program, which goes to air tonight.
The Dateline program indicates that Reinado had been enraged because he thought an offer of amnesty was slipping away from him.
Another rebel, codenamed Teboko, told Dateline that none of the rebels was prepared for a fight.
He said he was one of 10 rebels who went to Mr Ramos Horta’s house on Dili’s outskirts where Reinado and one of his men were shot dead shortly after dawn on February 11. “We had an appointment with the President,” Teboko said, but he admitted to Dateline that they disarmed the guards at the President’s front gate.
“We just came inside and Alfredo just said to them, ‘Hello, good morning. It’s OK. No problem. We just want to talk with the President’.”
Teboko said Timorese soldiers inside the house compound fired first. He said he saw that Reinado was dead “so we tried to save ourselves and ran way”.
An investigation has established that the soldier guard who shot Reinado stalked him in the President’s compound before firing his machine-gun.
Mr Ramos Horta was shot and seriously wounded when he returned to the house from a morning walk after being told a gun battle had erupted there.
In a telephone interview from the mountains, Salsinha said he would surrender after Mr Ramos Horta returned to Dili tomorrow from Darwin, where he has been recovering.
He said that the day before the attacks Reinado had been drinking wine with his Timorese-born Australian lover Angelita Pires, who he said was the only person Reinado listened to. “Major Alfredo never listened to us. He listened exclusively to Angelita,” he said.
But Ms Pires, who grew up in Darwin, told Dateline she did not influence Reinado to harm anybody.
“You know, I’ve planned a future with this man, so obviously it’s crazy,” she said.
Ms Pires, who is politically well connected in Dili, denied Reinado was drunk when she left him late in the afternoon before the attacks to return to Dili. She said she drank only tea with him.
Both Salsinha and Ms Pires confirmed that a group of men met Reinado at a mountain camp near the town of Gleno the evening before the attacks.
At least one of them was from a group called MUNJ – the Movement for National Unity and Justice – which had been acting as an intermediary in negotiations to try to persuade Reinado to surrender.
In Darwin, Mr Ramos Horta told CNN there was “increasing evidence pointing a finger at external elements” that were supporting Reinado. “These are elements interested in destabilising East Timor, plunging it into an endless civil war so it could be declared a failed state,” he said.