Paul Toohey | August 18, 2008
INSIDE the Hotel Becora, as they call Dili’s prison, some of the 22
men who face spending the rest of their lives behind bars for the
attempted murders of East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta and
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao are starting to talk.
The Australian has obtained the first accounts from rebels inside
Becora. None of them admits to shooting the President, even though Mr
Ramos Horta had identified Marcelo Caeteno as his attacker.
The rebels, who spent weeks on the run before surrendering, had
plenty of time to work on their story. Because they are all condemned
by the deed, they all deny it. They admit one group went to the
President’s compound and another went to the Prime Minister’s house
but say, no, they never shot nor ambushed anyone.
Many East Timorese believe the whole thing was a set-up; that rebel
leader Alfredo Reinado was invited down to Dili to be killed, to end
the two-year stand-off in which he and his rebel band remained armed
and roaming the hills in the country’s west.
The Australian revealed last week that autopsy reports showed Reinado
and fellow rebel Leopoldino Exposto were shot dead at almost
point-blank range inside Mr Ramos Horta’s villa. The shootings had
the hallmarks of executions, causing the main opposition party,
Fretilin, to demand an international investigation into the events of
“What The Australian has reported reinforces our calls,” Fretilin MP
Jose Teixeira said. “It cannot be ignored any longer.”
If the authorities have anything to hide, so do the rebels, who are
protecting themselves and a hazy political group called MUNJ, or the
Movement for National Unity and Justice, whose members spent the day
before the shootings with the rebels and had supplied vehicles that
were used to drive down to Dili.
On that morning, Reinado’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Gastao
Salsinha, positioned a second group of men in ambush below the Prime
Minister’s house. Some of Salsinha’s group have admitted to firing
shots in the air, but none has confessed to firing into Mr Gusmao’s
vehicle, which was reportedly hit by six bullets fired from four
The rebels were part of a larger group of about 600 Western-born
soldiers or military police who abandoned barracks in early 2006,
claiming there was discrimination in the army leading to eastern-born
soldiers being favoured for promotions.
The dispute took the country close to civil war.
The interviews with the rebels inside Becora, conducted by someone
who must remain anonymous, are with key rebels Amaro Suarez da Costa,
better known as Susar, and Gilberto Suni Mota, and Egidio Lay, who
were part of the group that went to Mr Ramos Horta’s home.
Susar was the first rebel to surrender after 19 days on the run. He
says he was sleeping in a shack a few kilometres away from Reinado’s
mountain hideaway at Luala, in the western district of Ermera, when
Reinado woke him at 3.30am.
“Suddenly, the major, he came to get me in my house,” Susar says. “He
just said to me, ‘We’re going to Dili. The President called us to
Twelve men went with Reinado in two cars, while 10 were with Salsinha
in another two cars.
Susar says: “When we left Luala we drove really slow, because the
meeting was at 6am. The idea was for us to go there, meet at 6am,
talk, talk, talk, then go back to Ermera.”
Susar says Reinado stalled for time so as not to be too early to the
Upon arrival, at 6am, they found two guards at the President’s gate.
“When we got out of the vehicle, (guard) Kelimut started to arm his
weapon,” Susar says. “I started to think: ‘What’s going on? We came
to meet the President and the security is acting in this manner.’ So
the major said: ‘Calm down, calm down’. Major said: ‘(Where’s) The
“Kelimut said: ‘Oh, the President’s gone to exercise’.”
Susar says he stood by the gate, apparently preventing those guards
from raising the alarm while Reinado, Leopoldino, Lay and Suni Mota
Susar claims the men were not wearing balaclavas, which is at odds
with the accounts of the presidential guard.
Susar admits that two of the rebels – he does not say who – returned
from inside the compound having taken a machinegun and an automatic
rifle from apparently sleeping guards.
Susar says he never stepped inside the compound. “No. I didn’t even
… go slightly in. My weapon, it was pointed down. We didn’t go for
a shootout. If we went there for a shootout, obviously I wouldn’t come.”
It was not until Susar heard shots that he loaded his weapon.
So how many minutes from when you arrived at the gate till when you
heard the shots, from when the car parked till the major died, he is
“Five minutes, maybe less,” he says. “It didn’t even get to five
minutes. I can tell you it was really fast.”
Was there an exchange of fire after Reinado was shot? “We never shot
at anybody,” Susar says. “We retreated. I only shot up, as warning
shots. Because if we just waited there, the Australian forces and the
tanks would’ve closed all the ways. We didn’t go there to shoot. I
had to shoot up, to warn the boys to get out. They were shooting at us.”
Did he see Ramos Horta returning? “I didn’t even see his holy spirit.
Never,” Susar says.
Susar says he cannot explain how the tragedy happened.
“I don’t know,” he says. “It was the major. We came because of him.
And then he died.”
Suni Mota’s and Lay’s accounts of the morning of the shootings are
similar: they say Reinado was shot inside the President’s home, after
which they ran like crazy, not looking back. They say they don’t know
who shot the President.
Suni Mota and Lay were with Reinado on February 10. Both men insist
no MUNJ representative was with Reinado the day before the attacks.
They focus on a visit from Reinado’s lover, Australian-East Timorese
citizen Angelita Pires, who has been blamed by Mr Ramos Horta and the
prosecutor-general for influencing the events of February 11.
Ms Pires brought four people with her to Reinado’s on the day before
the shooting: her Australian-Timorese friends, Teresa and Victor de
Sousa, and their small son; and an older woman, Eliza Morato, who had
arrived from Australia with greetings for Reinado from his relatives.
Ms Morato took photos of Reinado and his group, which now form part
of the investigation case.
When shown one of Ms Morato’s photos, both Suni Mota and Lay identify
a MUNJ representative, Cancio Pereira, standing with Reinado and the
MUNJ had acted as the negotiator between Reinado and Mr Ramos Horta,
who was attempting to solve the standoff. MUNJ was pro-Reinado, and
on January 7, resigned from a taskforce set up to deal with Reinado,
claiming the Government was not showing sufficient will to end the
As the interviews reveal, MUNJ was indeed there, which raises
questions as to whether it played a role in influencing Reinado to go
No MUNJ member has been charged over the shootings, though Mr Pereira
and fellow MUNJ member Lucas Soares have been questioned and have had
their passports confiscated.
MUNJ co-ordinator Augusto Junior Trinidade declined to speak to The