Displacement crisis, growing Australian intervention in East Timor

Australian “peacekeeping” troops killed four in a raid on rebels in East Timor March 4, but their leader Alfredo Reinado escaped. Reinado, who deserted the army last year and is wanted for his alleged role in deadly clashes that brought down the government, stole more than 20 automatic weapons in a raid on a police post, prompting President Xanana Gusmao to request his arrest by Australian forces. The exchange of fire followed a tense stand-off in the town of Same, where tank and helicopter movements were reported. (AP, The Australian, March 4)

A military spokesman in Canberra said the International Security Force in East Timor had been augmented by additional troops from Australia in recent days, but would not disclose the nature of the personnel for operational and security reasons. Officials denied rumors that elite SAS crack units had been dispatched to East Timor, where there are already 800 Australian soldiers. (The Australian, March 3)

More than 5,000 Timorese have fled to camps established for “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) over the past month because of violence in the capital Dili. There are some 25,000 IDPs already in the camps. Several houses were burned in what the UN called “gang violence” in Dili in February. Also last month, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Mission for East Timor (UNMIT) for another year until February 2008. The Council created UNMIT in August 2006 after fighting broke out in April, leaving at least 37 dead and forcing about 155,000 others—or 15% of the population—to flee their homes. (AKI, March 2; UN News Center, Feb. 20)

See our last post on East Timor and Australia.

  1. Protests for Reinado
    International police have moved into the center of Dili to “restore order” following protests supporting Maj. Alfredo Reinado. protesters blocked streets and made speeches against President Gusmao, who is urging Reinado to surrender. Reinado says he won’t surrender to international troops. Australian troops are searching for him, but Brigadier Mal Rerden says there’s no sign. Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says that the time for negotiation with Maj. Reinado is over, adding that Australian troops have no desire to kill the rebel leader. He said Reinado should surrender as soon as possible because he cannot hide out in the jungle indefinitely. Reinado escaped from jail and fled to the jungle in August, and has apparently retreated there again. He is a veteran of the guerilla struggle against Indonesia, and has spent much of his life fighting in the jungle.

    The Australian Embassy was also the target of protests by hundreds of Major Reinado’s supporters, who targeted government vehicles and burnt tires in the street. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC World Service, March 5)