Reports emerged from Dili
yesterday that nine semi-automatic pistols and a “significant quantity”
of ammunition were seized by Aussie troops after they arrested rebel
East Timor army Major Alfredo Reinado and 20 fellow renegades on
weapons charges.

As Mark Dodd reports in The Australian
today, Major Reinado, 39, a former military police commander, was a key
player in the country’s recent political crisis and “enjoys notoriety
as an Australian citizen trained by the Australian Defence Force.” He
was also involved in a 23 May gun battle that killed at least one
member of the East Timor Defence Force and left several others wounded.
He was charged with illegal possession of firearms following the end
this week of a gun amnesty.

Dodd also reports that the arrests
followed a tip-off by Portuguese riot police and Australian Federal
Police and took place on Tuesday evening near the Dili heliport.

according to a Portuguese-speaking Crikey reader, Michael Jones, a
Portuguese press account of the arrests includes a couple of details
that are missing from reports in The Oz and other Australian sources:

On Tuesday, one day after the Australian commander
Brigadier Slater declared that anyone caught with weapons would be
arrested, a cache of weapons and military equipment was located by
Portuguese paramilitary police (GNR) within ten metres of the entrance
to Australian military HQ in Dili.

The GNR were responding to a
complaint from a home-owner that his house had been occupied. When they
arrived they found the occupiers were self-styled rebel leader Alfredo
Reinado and some of his men. Reinado alleged that he had permission
direct from the President to billet himself opposite the Australian HQ.

GNR sought search warrants for two adjacent houses which Reinado’s men
had also taken over, a process which took several hours involving
discussions with the Prosecutor’s office as well as the offices of the
President and the Interior Minister. They eventually turned up a cache
of nine pistols, more than 50 rifle and pistol magazines, defensive
grenades, smoke grenades, other military equipment and uniforms. The
situation by the end of the day was that Reinado and his men were
allowed to remain in the house under Australian military guard.

called the ADF to verify the accuracy of the Portuguese report but we
were yet to hear back at the time of Crikey’s deadline today. It seems
odd to have a situation where an armed band of army deserters is
claiming Presidential authority to camp across the street from the
Australian military HQ. And if Reinado’s allegations are untrue, how
could the ADF not have noticed that he and his men were squirreling
away weapons under their noses?

As for DFAT, a department
spokeswoman told Crikey this morning they have no details of the rebel
arrests further to what has been reported in the Australian press.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey