Timor rebels partied with police, military after surrender

AAP | Thursday, 01 May 2008

East Timorese authorities hosted an alcohol-fuelled party for a band of rebels after they surrendered for trying to assassinate the nation’s top leaders.

The soiree for the 12 rebels, including their leader Gastao Salsinha, was held at the joint headquarters of the police and military, hours after the men gave themselves up in Dili on Tuesday.

The event has outraged opposition MPs, who said it sent a dangerous message to citizens in a country plagued by instability and violence.

Salsinha and his rebels are wanted over February’s assassination attempts against President Jose Ramos Horta, who was critically injured, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unharmed.

After their negotiated surrender on Tuesday, Salsinha and his 11 men were guests of honour at the party.

Still dressed in their jungle fatigues, the rebels danced and drank with members of the police and military taskforce who only days earlier had been hunting for them in the mountains.

They also watched themselves surrendering in reports carried on a TV news bulletin.

“They were offered beer and food, and they were hugged and greeted by their former friends (in the military) many times,” said Max Stahl, filmmaker and East Timor observer who shares an office building with joint command.

“It was an atmosphere where they began to de-stress a little.”

The rebels left the party about 10pm, but police and soldiers drank beer and danced until after midnight.

Opposition Fretilin MPs have branded the party “bizarre” and said it sent the wrong message to the people of East Timor.

“It’s quite immature and also looks bizarre that some, who you call as a rebel who has also been accused of conducting an attack against state, is welcomed like big head or commander in chief – it is not the right message,” said Arsenio Bano, a Fretilin MP and member of the parliamentary defence and security committee.

“Anyone in this country will think now that if you need to get attention from the president or important men you just need to make trouble – a lot of trouble will allow them to talk to you and negotiate with you.”

It has also emerged that there was no formal process around the rebels’ surrender on Tuesday. Arrest warrants for the wanted men were not acted upon until yesterday.

Salsinha, who is suspected of leading the February 11 attack on Gusmao, appeared at a preliminary hearing late yesterday.

The rebels are now being held in a secure facility in Dili, under police and military guard.

Bano said the way the men had been treated made him “pessimistic” about the justice process.

MPs from Fretilin and the National Unity Party boycotted Tuesday’s ceremony at government palace, where Salsinha and his followers surrendered themselves and their weapons.

The joint police and military command was not available for comment.

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