August 31, 2006

International forces hunt for E.Timor rebel chief

By Lirio da Fonseca

DILI (Reuters) - International police and troops in East
Timor were searching on Thursday for rebel leader Major Alfredo
Reinado after a mass jailbreak raised serious concern about
fragile security in the fledgling nation.

Reinado, one of the figureheads of a revolt that plunged
the former Portuguese colony into chaos in May, was among more
than 50 prisoners who walked out of the Becora jail near the
capital Dili on Wednesday.

The rebel leader said on a video tape obtained by Reuters
Television that he did not want to stage a new revolt.

"I have escaped from Dili not to revolt but because the
judicial system in Dili is not good enough. But I will account
for my action and answer any charges against me when the system
has been improved."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will fly to
Dili on Sunday for meetings with Indonesian counterpart Hassan
Wirajuda, as well as East Timor Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta
and President Xanana Gusmao.

"It's obviously a matter of deep regret that this has
happened," Downer told reporters in Sydney.

"It is going to be an important visit and in the light of
the escape of these 56 prisoners, which is of very great
concern to us, an opportunity for us to reinforce our support
to the East Timorese," he said.

Brigadier Mick Slater, the head of Australian troops in
East Timor, said the prisoners walked out the jail's front gate
during visiting hours.

Joao Domingos, head of Becora jail's administration, said
grass cutters were used to intimidate guards during the
breakout, in which he said all of Alfredo's men being held had

He said he was not aware whether guards helped in the
escape. Another 148 prisoners remain in confinement.

"They threatened us with grass shears. They said 'open the
doors or you will die'. We opened the doors and 57 got away,"
Domingos said.

The United Nations agreed last week on a new mission to
East Timor, comprising some 1,600 police, despite a dispute
over whether Australian-led international troops already there
should remain independent or be part of a U.N. force.

Downer said the implementation of the new U.N. mission
would be discussed at the trilateral talks, to be held on


Slater said it was likely the escapees were now armed,
although Dili remained quiet and calm after his troops quickly
sealed off the city.

Dili suffered a series of protests that evolved into
widespread violence in May after 600 members of East Timor's
1,400-strong army were sacked.

In late May, former military police commander Reinado led
his followers into the mountains behind Dili and refused to
give up weapons until then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri

An estimated 100,000 people were displaced and at least 20
killed in the violence, which led to deployment of a
2,500-strong international peacekeeping force.

The revolt stemmed from divisions between troops from the
east and those from the west of the country, which was ruled by
Jakarta from 1976 until an independence referendum in 1999.

(Additional reporting by Paul Tait in SYDNEY and Achmad
Sukarsono in JAKARTA)