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Spreading Violence in East Timor (1999)

A day after the Feb. 10 assassination attempts on the president and prime minister of Timor-Leste, "Dili [the capitol] and the country remain calm with no serious security incidents reported," the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) deputy spokesperson, Isabelle Abric, told IRIN.

Renegade army commander Alfredo Reinado was killed after he and other rebels shot President Ramos-Horta three times in the chest. Horta was airlifted to a New Zealand hospital, where he is in serious condition, but expected to make a full recovery.

However, most Timorese and international observers have been asking themselves why such a thing happened. One UN agency official told IRIN: "The whole thing is puzzling, a puzzle as to what occurred exactly and why."

A well-informed local Dili resident, who did not want his name used, told IRIN: "It was a shock to all of us and the whole country." He said it was important to note the widespread anger and frustration articulated by virtually all Dili residents.

Negotiations to get Reinado to turn himself in and face justice had been going on between the government and Reinado for some time, according to UN officials, with President Ramos-Horta playing a key role in those discussions. There had been no indication of increased tensions in that process.

The most credible theory, according to informed Dili residents and one senior UN official, is that a split was developing within rebel ranks with Alfredo Reinado becoming increasingly isolated.

Some of the "petitioners" -- the nearly 600-strong defense force troops dismissed in 2006 -- had been allied with Reinado and were apparently planning to negotiate directly with the government, the UN official told IRIN. Some 75 had met Prime Minister Gusmao in the days before the assassination attempts.

The theory is that Reinado may have acted to pre-empt a mass defection of troops and in an effort to restore his authority and credibility, according to the UN official.

In an UNMIT press conference on February 12, the acting special representative for the UN Secretary-General in Timor-Leste, Finn Reske-Nielsen said: "The investigations... will be extensive and ongoing."

At the press briefing, the acting UN police commissioner, Hermanprit Singh, indicated that a few people were under investigation: "The names cannot be revealed as of now because they will be presented to the prosecutor-general in the first progress report, which Reske-Nielsen said could be submitted within 24 hours.

Some criticism has been levelled at the UN over the assassination attempts. Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri, the former prime minister, has called for UNMIT and the International Stabilization Force (ISF) to provide an explanation as to how this situation could have happened.

Parliament Speaker Fernando Lasama has also criticized the UN and UN police (UNPol) for not providing adequate security for President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. "I really lament the work of UNPol because their assistance to the president came one hour late," said Lasama in a joint press conference with the prime minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, in Lisbon.

With 30,000 internally displaced persons still encamped in Dili, there had been concern that violence might erupt in the aftermath of the assassination attempts. However, according to Angela Sherwood, public information officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), "everything is continuing as normal in the IDP camps."

Joan Fleuren, country director for the World Food Program, told IRIN: "Yesterday we curtailed feeding in the camps because of the security situation, but today, things are back to normal and there have been no security incidents in the IDP camps."

Australia has committed additional troops to the ISF. The extra troops which were expected to arrive today bring the total number of Australian troops on the ground to 1,000. Australia is also sending 70 police.

© IRIN 2008

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Albion Monitor   February 12, 2008   (

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