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Source of Original Interview in Portuguese:

Source of Unofficial Translation into English from Portuguese:

Original Title: Mari Alkatiri, primeiro-ministro de Timor-Leste «A população civil foi empurrada para a morte»

Micael Pereira, enviado a Timor

9 Junho 2006

Unofficial Translation:

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

“The civilian population was pushed to death”

Interview to Mari Alkatiri, by Micael Pereira

Expresso, 9th of June 2006

In a moment of deadlock in which the opponent factions in East Timor hold their breath but do not drop their weapons, PM Mari Alkatiri talks about the critical episode that led the rebels to the mountains: the alleged “Raikotu massacre” on the 28th of April.

Expresso: Last week you told Expresso that you believed it were not just kids acting on themselves in the streets of Dili and that there was an organization behind them. What or who are you talking about exactly?

Mari Alkatiri: Luckily that is not just my own opinion anymore. The forces in the field, the international forces, have also come to the conclusion that there are people behind the groups who are assaulting and burning houses, because they have radios and walky-talkies. They communicate between themselves, which suggests there is a central organization managing everything. Some of those groups are active. Other groups organize themselves just to take advantage of the chaos in the city.

E: Are you referring to criminal groups associated to former 1999 pro-Indonesia militias?

MA: Some groups, yes. But we cannot say that all the groups burning houses have the same nature. Some are doing it with the clear purpose of hitting certain persons. Not because they are Loromonu or Lorosae but key persons.

E: Who are those key persons?

MA: The purpose is to frighten public servants of a certain level to neutralize the government’s action, to create political collapse.

E: And do you believe groups interested in political collapse are associated to the rebels major Alfredo [Reinaldo], majors Marcos [Tilman] and Tara, and lieutenant [Gastão] Salsinha?

MA: I do not have exact data to say they are associated to majors Alfredo or Tara. I cannot make that accusation but the truth is in some declarations they themselves let us believe so: that they will do everything to create a collapse in governing and that they have infiltrated groups. There are other groups that appear spontaneously, that are opportunists and take the opportunity to steal. The majority is even of that sort.

E: The rebels insist that they will only accept starting the dialogue after the PM resigns.

MA: A group of rebels cannot want to determine the future of a country. That cannot be admitted anywhere.

E: Is that a condition that you will not really accept?

MA: Never. The country would never again be a country. Today it is they; tomorrow there will be others.

E: The rebels accuse you of having given orders on the 28th of April so that the FDTL army used force against civilians.

MA: The order was given by me. The police was completely unstructured, without a command. There are laws that say when the police is not able to do their job the army may be asked to intervene, and restore law and order. But the order given was not to shoot civilians but to control and keep them away.

E: At the Dili National Hospital, where we were, there is confirmation of more than 60 civilians shot [five dead confirmed, all civilians, although the number may be higher because the wounded were taken by their families]. The rebels name it the “Raikotu massacre”. In a moment when they are claiming to assume the responsibility, who [do you think] should be responsible?

MA: I know some people even threw grenades against the army. One grenade exploded and another did not. Two people were killed as a reaction of the army to those grenades, even before the order I gave. Some talk about civilians but do civilians carry grenades? Do civilians carry automatic guns? Should we keep considering these civilians as civilians?

E: Are you saying the petitioners [the army deserters] and civilians with them were armed?

MA: Of course. And [even] if they were not armed, they should not be with the petitioners. Why did the petitioners push the civilians ahead as a human shield? That was the strategy – a strategy used by Suharto’s forces many times here in East Timor.

E: At Falintil/FDTL headquarters, where we also were, the soldiers say the petitioners are militias.

MA: The truth is that civilians were pushed to death so they could accuse and cause the government’s fall. And they could not have caught the army; otherwise it would have been a total disaster.

E: Do you not attribute that responsibility to colonel Lere Anan who commanded the forces in that day?

MA: What responsibility?

E: The responsibility of the army having shot civilians.

MA: It is better to have an investigation first.

E: But is the investigation being done?

MA: No, it is not being done. But it has to be done in order to find out who shot whom. The others were armed as well. There are soldiers who were shot in the back.

E: Is that investigation not urgent?

MA: We have asked for it everywhere.

E: And who should investigate?

MA: The Minister of Foreign Affairs has already written to the Human Rights Commission so they can do their report. We are the first country in the world to ask for that. We have also written to the United Nations (UN) so they can take part in the investigation. We have all justice systems working to initiate it. We have international prosecutors and judges in our justice system, nominated by the UN. They are not just Timorese. That will all be done. Because what it was wanted was that many people had been killed they keep claiming more than 60 deaths. The last number given by lieutenant Salsinha already mentions more than 500 people. It has been multiplied by ten. If 60 people were killed who are they? Where are the relatives who lost them? This is a simple investigation, it is not like in Indonesian times when Suharto did not allow anyone to come and investigate. How many journalists are in this town right now? Journalists also have a certain capacity to investigate. Nobody puts forward the names of the dead, nor even of the victims’ relatives. They keep talking, however. It smells like propaganda.

E: Have you got precise information on the weapons that have been confiscated in Dili?

MA: I do not have any official data. More than 400 fire weapons have been mentioned but I cannot confirm it. I hope it is true because it means there will be less 400 weapons in the neighbourhoods.

E: Is the communication with the international forces working well?

MA: The Australian Minister of Defence and the commanders in the field – from Australia and New Zealand – have just been with me.

E: There is a conspiracy thesis that defends Australia is behind the chaotic situation in East Timor. It is a fact that the dossier on the exploration on natural gas in Timorese waters with the government in Canberra is still an open one. Does this make any sense?

MA: To anyone who wants to make an analysis of all this, all the parts in the puzzle have to be looked at in order to understand the origins of this conflict. To someone who is ruling the country, the problem of stability and the problem of law and order have to be solved now and objectively.

E: There is a tension with Australia, for example, on the decision about the natural gas pipeline of the Great Sunrise wells. The company that operates in that area is Australian [Woodside] and there is an agreement that waits to be ratified by the parliament in East Timor that could jeopardize future pretensions of your government to enlarge the Timor Sea limits.

MA: I do not agree with the interpretation that such an agreement could jeopardize the Timorese pretensions. There are countries in the world with centuries of history, which have still not defined their maritime borders. It is better to have an agreement with a neighbouring country to explore maritime resources than to postpone that agreement. If we insist with the borders we will not reach a consensus and we will need another 30 or 40 years. After the current crisis we will be able to respond much quicker to the problems of rebuilding the country because we will than have the resources. Everything that has so far been done with Australia aiming for a more equal distribution of revenues was positive.

E: How do you see Australia’s PM John Howard position and declarations? He has put in doubt your performance has the leader of the government in Dili.

MA: The only interpretation I can make is that John Howard has surely not been following the governing of East Timor. Because f he had so he would not have said the silliness he said, accusing the governing of being a bad one when it was praised by everything and by everyone, including the Australian government. East Timor’s development partners were in Dili in April, where an important Australian delegation was also present and everyone praised the governing. Suddenly, in two months I became a demon to the Australian media. If I were PM of a powerful country I would never interfere in the political managing of smaller countries.

E: The Australian press suggests that you were trying to reinforce your own personal power. In last Fretilin’s congress the militants had to vote in you raising their arm. It was also written that you did not want elections in 2007 to be followed by the UN.

MA: That is a lie. They are trying to demonize someone, has other leaders in the world were demonized, so it can later be overthrown. If someone supported the secret vote in the Fretilin’s congress, I did. Everyone ignored this. When the suggestions came from the districts that the voting would be by raising of the arm, I stood up asking for the secret vote. But the majority voted on the raising of the arm. And the involvement of the UN was asked by the government.

E: By yourself?

MA: Yes, through the Minister of Estate Administration. We asked the UN to send an evaluation team to find out what was needed to be done. What they want though is an electoral law approved by the [UN] Security Council and not by the National Parliament. That is not possible. This is a state with sovereign institutions that can approve laws. Because otherwise we will continue as a protectorate of the UN. We are not a protectorate – not even from the UN. But we do want the participation of the UN in the elections. Why so much noise?

E: What about the fact that you reinforced the capacity of the police? The police was better armed than the FDTL army.

MA: The police was not even formed by the government. We inherited a police formed by the UN.

E: But you reinforced it. You created new unities within the police.

MA: When problems in Ermera, Atulia and Atsabe arose, related to the reintroduction of militias that killed people, there was the need to send forces [to those areas] as the international community saw that as an internal conflict and it could not get involved. At the time it was a decision of the Estate. Of President Xanana. The Estate decided to send the FDTL to Atulia and Atsabe. This was in January 2003. From then on and because we were sending the Falintil/FDTL to fight that armed group, we were criticised as it was a police matter. But the group was using machine guns and our police had pistols. Where did you see a police [armed with] pistols fighting bandits armed with machine guns? Therefore the idea of creating a special group within the police, the reserve unit, formed by 80 men.

E: And what do they do?

MA: They are used to fight those armed groups in rural areas. They are 80. That unit was created when the UN still had the responsibility of defence and security.

E: How do you explain the internal divisions within the army and the police?

MA: They were politicized. If you talk with the FDTL commands you will find out that the first thing that happened was an attempt of enticing them to support a military coup.

E: Was General Matan Ruak [Chief of the Estate Armed Forces] enticed by someone?

MA: I said the command, I did not mention names.

E: And who was the command enticed by?

MA: I will not mention names. Those who listen to me know whom am I referring to. There was an attempt to entice the FDTL command to support an eventual Estate coup.

E: An Estate coup related to the militias?

MA: Related to various sectors of the country. Sectors outside the Estate. The command was clear in saying that there would only be changes through constitutional and electoral means and that they do not allow coups. From then on, the best way was to weaken the Falintil/FDTL.

E: Have you been receiving enough support from Portugal in managing this crisis?

MA: Yes. I have spoken several times with PM José Socrates. There is a total availability by Portugal in the sense of helping us once again, in restoring law and order and in supporting us in the economical recovery of East Timor. I only have to thank. The Portuguese position has been exemplar in not involving itself in internal affairs, but by helping only.

E: Do you believe you will win elections in 2007?

MA: I have no doubts.

E: Do you feel nervous?

MA: No. I work very well under pressure. I am more nervous when I have no pressure.

E: Are you not afraid?

MA: No. If I were afraid I would have already died scared.

E: And have you been able to sleep?

MA: No. But not because I am afraid or nervous but because I have worries and I have sense of responsibility. I sleep a bit. I do not use any medicine to sleep. From time to time I have another whisky or two. But no medicine.

// posted by nv @ 4:13 PM

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