Gusmao tells Alkatiri to quit over guns
Email Print Normal font Large font Hamish McDonald, Asia-Pacific Editor in Dili
June 21, 2006
Wanted ... Rogerio Lobato.
Photo: Andrew Meares
AdvertisementEAST Timor's political crisis was moving to a head last night with prosecutors yesterday ordering the arrest of the dismissed interior minister, and the President asking the Prime Minister to resign.
East Timor's Prosecutor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, issued an arrest warrant charging former interior minister Rogerio Lobato with issuing 17 police assault rifles to former anti-Indonesian guerillas linked to the ruling Fretilin party, allegedly to form a hit-squad against rivals.
The President, Xanana Gusmao, has written to the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri - reported to have authorised the arms transfer - asking him to take political responsibility and resign or step aside while the allegations are investigated.
The President has convened the Council of State, a body of senior figures nominated by himself and the parliament, for a meeting today at which he is expected to press the resignation demand.
After United Nations prosecutors assembled testimony taken from the alleged Fretilin hit squad at their mountain hide-out on Monday, Mr Lobato attempted to flee the country yesterday morning, high-level government sources said.
His name was listed on the passenger manifest of a regular Air North flight to Darwin, but he was told he could not board because Canberra had blocked his entry to Australia.
Yesterday evening, Mr Lobato was still at large in his ministerial villa, and had gone to talk with Mr Alkatiri at his neighbouring residence in Dili's Farol district.
The interior minister was dismissed three weeks ago after the 3500-strong police force disintegrated and took sides in fighting between army factions. The leader of the alleged Fretilin hit squad, Vicente de Conceicao or "Commander Railos", told prosecutors they were given 17 assault rifles in early May by police acting on Mr Lobato's orders.
In the ABC's Four Corners program on Monday night, Mr Railos said he had been given orders on May 7 by Mr Lobato, in the presence of Mr Alkatiri, to eliminate political rivals.
But Mr Alkatiri yesterday indicated he would fight the allegations, and would resist growing calls for him to resign.
Mr Alkatiri said he had told Mr Railos, a delegate from Liquica, that Fretilin activists were being threatened by other groups in villages. Mr Alkatiri said he had suggested Fretilin form "popular security" arrangements for themselves but should not be armed.
In a bizarre twist, Mr Railos telephoned Mr Alkatiri yesterday morning and said he wanted to surrender his guns to Mr Gusmao. Mr Alkatiri said that, in reply, he suggested the guns should be given immediately to the police or the Australian-led military force.
Fretilin leaders yesterday expressed full support for Mr Alkatiri at a belligerent press conference at the headquarters of the party central committee.
In an interview with the Jakarta Post on Monday, Mr Alkatiri said: "If I resign now, it's going to increase tension, because of my supporters."