Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fears heighten as Reinado eludes the chase

Brendan Nicholson, The AGE
March 5, 2007

Brigadier Mal Rerden: Operation is ongoing and will succeed.
Photo: Reuters

The big fear of Australian military officers and the East Timorese and Australian governments is that the resourceful Major Reinado and his followers will escape deep into the mountains and become a magnet for disaffected former soldiers and angry youth. It's not the sort of country anyone wants to fight in.

The runaway major has had regular contact and fairly good relations with Australian officers in East Timor since he walked out of jail in Dili last year. The Australians have previously encouraged him to surrender and promised to guarantee his safety.

For months Reinado has kept in constant touch with his supporters by mobile phone and it is likely that is how he was warned the SAS were coming for him yesterday. He had just enough time to escape but some of his followers did not.

The major, who trained in Australia, has insisted that he does not want to fight Australians but he escalated the situation dramatically when he got his hands on 25 modern assault rifles a week ago. He says they were given to him by supporters among the border police. The Government says he stole them in raids on police stations.

Late last week the Australian Government received a formal written request from East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta asking for Australian help in capturing the major and his supporters. The ADF insists that the raid was not a failure but it has signalled to Reinado that as far as his friends in the Australian army are concerned the party is over.

The SAS-led team that went after him wanted to capture him neatly so that he could be handed over unharmed, but now he and most of his men are on the run, armed and alert to the danger.

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