JAKARTA - East Timor President Jose
Ramos-Horta was reported to be in stable condition
after emergency surgery in an Australian hospital
for gunshot wounds he sustained on Monday.
Nonetheless, his fledgling country appears to be
heading for a critical political phase.
The Nobel peace laureate was seriously
wounded in an assassination attempt by a group of
rebel soldiers led by Alfredo Reinado at his home
in Dili, East Timor's capital. Reinado was killed
by Horta's guards in an exchange of gunfire.
Rebels led by Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha,
Reinado's second-in-command when he was head of
the Military Police regiment, also on Monday
staged an ambush against Prime Minister Jose
Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, on
a rural highway. The Timorese independence hero
Much now depends on the
measures the Dili government takes in the wake of
the failed coup attempt. Ina Befride, a known
close associate of Reinado, was quoted as saying
that if the government continued to invite more
foreign military intervention, the situation would
Australian special troops
began arriving in Dili on Tuesday to reinforce
international forces already stationed in the
country to help implement a state of national
emergency declared soon after the assassination
East Timor, a former Portuguese
colony with almost 1 million people, became
independent in 2002, officially ending more than
two decades of Indonesian occupation. But the new
country quickly fractured along regional lines in
2006, where splits in the security forces
triggered violence that prompted foreign, mainly
Australian, armed intervention.
opposed to Gusmao's decision to call in Australian
troops and to hunt down Reinado and many will
likely take umbrage at the government's decision
to request more Australian troops in reaction to
Monday's assassination attempt. Australian Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd told the Sydney Morning Herald
newspaper on Monday that he would be sending more
troops and police to East Timor.
also travel to Dili this week in response to a
request from Gusmao. "My reason for doing that is
to reinforce in person Australia's resolve,
Australia's determination to stand with East Timor
at this time of deep challenge to its democratic
processes," Rudd was quoted as saying.
About 800 Australian troops are already on
peacekeeping duties in East Timor. Rudd said the
National Security Committee of the cabinet had
authorized a "substantial and immediate"
reinforcement of Australian defense force
personnel, as well as an additional contingent of
Australian federal police officials.
Australian-led international security
stabilization force in East Timor has already
secured key buildings throughout Dili and
increased its presence in the districts. But the
deployment of more Australian troops poses a
danger to the standing of Timorese politicians in
general and the Horta government in particular.
It means they must rely on foreign forces
to protect themselves from their people who are
fighting for a better situation, according to
Filomeno de Haornay, secretary general of the Uni
Timor Aswain, which groups together large sections
of the Timorese community in Indonesia.
Moreover, Reinado has a large number of
supporters, said de Haornay. "His death will spark
massive resistance. If the government is not smart
enough in handling this, things will go worse," he
Others, however, are more
Taufik Darusman, a politician
with the New Indonesia Party, does not believe
that resistance will intensify after Reinado's
death. "There is no other resistance leader as
charismatic as Reinado. The group is now losing
momentum," said Darusman. "The resistance will
subside, but the dispatch of too many foreign
troops will provoke resistance," he added.
Reinado first led a group of about 600
rebel soldiers, who broke away from the armed
forces because of alleged regional discrimination
in promotions. After deserting the East Timor army
they set up their own headquarters some 25
kilometers south of Dili, from where they launched
an anti-government campaign.
violent demonstrations in Dili in March 2006, the
security forces shot and killed five people, which
in turn sparked more violence, rioting and looting
for several days. This was followed by fighting
among groups of the security forces that left more
than 37 people dead between April and May 2006.
The Dili government in response brought in
international peacekeepers to restore order and
hunt down Reinado. On March 5, 2007, Australian
troops raided Reinado's hideout on a hilltop base,
but Reinado and an unknown number of his armed men
escaped despite the Australians being heavily
armed and blockading the base for six days.
Reinado's escape emboldened his
supporters, who have often chanted "long live
Reinado" as they fought pitched battles with
United Nations peacekeepers in and around Dili.
Rioters recently smashed cars and government
buildings in Dili and Gleno, a small town in East
Timor's coffee-growing western mountains, where
Reinado grew up.
Yanto Soegiarto, a senior
journalist and editor of the Globe, an
English-language business magazine, offered a
simple, if not controversial, solution to the
problem: "Give the Indonesian military a chance to
restore security and stability in Timor and the
situation will improve."
East Timor are now in a brotherly relationship.
The Timorese will see Indonesian troops more as
their new brother compared to the Western-style,
heavily-armed white soldiers who always try to
look superior," Soegiarto maintained.
Whether a contingent of Indonesian troops
could better restore order is at best a wild card.
The international community once saw Indonesian
presence as the core of East Timor's problems. Now
they can see that the situation has gone from bad
to worse under a democratically elected government
propped by international security forces,