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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06DILI213 2006-05-05 15:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Dili
Cable title:  

EAST TIMOR UPDATE: ARMY RETURNS TO BARRACKS AS GOET URGES

Tags:   PGOV PHUM ASEC MARR TT 
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PP RUEHCHI RUEHNH RUEHPB
DE RUEHDT #0213/01 1251536
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051536Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY DILI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2486
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0374
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHXX/GENEVA IO MISSIONS COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0436
RUEHLI/AMEMBASSY LISBON PRIORITY 0363
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0220
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0234
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0305
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 0106
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 1807
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DILI 000213 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS, IO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 5/5/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ASEC MARR TT
SUBJECT: EAST TIMOR UPDATE: ARMY RETURNS TO BARRACKS AS GOET URGES
CALM

REF: A) DILI 184 B) DILI 194

DILI 00000213 001.2 OF 004


CLASSIFIED BY: Elizabeth S. Wharton, Political Officer, Embassy
Dili, State.
REASON: 1.4 (b)



1. (SBU) Summary. The Embassy's current assessment is that the
potential for politically motivated violence in East Timor in
the near future appears to be de-escalating. Although the
likelihood of imminent violence appears low, the ongoing
political and constitutional crisis caused by Prime Minister
Mari Alkatiri's extra-constitutional decision to use the armed
forces (F-FDTL) to quell the April 28 riot --- and by the
widespread belief that F-FDTL members then committed serious
human rights violations --- continues. Developments on the
ground, including the decision of the Government to order almost
all F-FDTL members to withdraw from Dili and several public
statements by President Xanana Gusmao, point toward
stabilization. Two groups whose flight to the mountains outside
Dili have been the focus of some recent rumors of imminent
violence --- a group of dismissed soldiers whose demonstrations
led up to the riot (the "petitioners") and the group of military
police (MPs) and members of the national police service (PNTL)
who left their ranks and are gathered at an unknown location ---
appear to have no violent intentions. Rather, these two groups
appear to have fled primarily out of fear that their lives were
in danger, and perhaps also in order to make a political
statement. However, the nature of the ongoing political
situation remains fluid and the potential remains for another
security crisis if the respective actors do not stay their
current course. Meanwhile, the Embassy is concerned that a
humanitarian crisis may be brewing as thousands of internally
displaced people remain in various locations around Dili and in
outlying districts. End summary.

National leaders working to stabilize the situation


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (U) Developments on the ground currently indicate a trend
toward stabilization and the restoration of calm. There have
been no reported incidents of violence in Dili, other than what
appear to be a few routine non-political crimes, for the last
five days. Although there is still widespread fear and distrust
of the Government (and particularly of the F-FDTL) among the
population of Dili, statements and actions by Government leaders
during the last 24 hours are addressing these fears. In
particular, Government officials announced yesterday the final
withdrawal of all F-FDTL soldiers from the posts that they had
been occupying around Dili's perimeter. In addition, they
announced that all special police units were ordered to return
immediately to their respective headquarters and to turn in
their long-barreled firearms. According to the Government's
announcements --- and to President Gusmao in a conversation with
Ambassador Rees, reported Septel --- all law enforcement
activities in Dili beginning at 4 p.m. yesterday were to have
been by "community police" on foot patrols and by a few joint
vehicle patrols by PNTL members augmented by the remaining 15
members of the military police. The Embassy has confirmed that
all the F-FDTL posts around Dili's perimeter have been
withdrawn. Although Embassy has received two eyewitness reports
of trucks full of F-FDTL members in Dili today, these may have
been transporting F-FDTL members to their barracks or
headquarters. Embassy staff also witnessed at least one vehicle
transporting a officers of a special police unit, with their
long-barreled firearms, out of Dili in the direction of the
unit's headquarters. The presence of community policing patrols
has also been confirmed. (Comment: The community policing is
also an important step because of worries regarding the
potential for wide-scale looting in the neighborhoods that have
been mostly abandoned by their residents. End comment.)



3. (U) Government leaders have been making a concerted effort
over the last two days to show a united front and to attempt to
direct developments back toward the political process. Most
notable have been joint appearances by President Xanana Gusmao
and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri --- whom many rumors and some
intelligence reports have regarded as possible antagonists in an
armed struggle for control of the country --- both yesterday and
today. Yesterday, in a joint appearance on national television,
they announced the revised security posture described in

DILI 00000213 002.2 OF 004


previous paragraph. The President and Prime Minister also
jointly announced the inauguration of a commission to
investigate the complaints of the dismissed soldiers and called
for calm and a return to normal. Today, Gusmao and Alkatiri
together called print and broadcast journalists for an
interactive off-the-record discussion on the current situation.
An Embassy staff member who was able to observe the session,
although it was closed to the public, noted that both men
appeared relaxed and friendly with each other, in marked
contrast to their separate and cheerless appearances a few days
ago. Emphasizing that they do not want to tell the news media
what to report, they appealed to them to help calm the panic
that has seized so much of the population. They assured the
journalists that security was under control, and they asked them
to remember their responsibility to the public and to refrain
from reporting rumors and to make an effort to report the
positive things that are happening.



4. (SBU) Two separate commissions have now been established to
address the major outstanding issues of this crisis. The first,
mentioned above, is the Commission of Investigation, charged
with with looking into the complaints raised by the dismissed
soldiers in their original petitions. (Reftel A) This
commission was sworn in by the Prime Minister today at a brief
ceremony attended by the Dili diplomatic corps and the news
media. In addition, a Committee for the Verification of Details
About Dead and Injured was established early this week to look
into allegations of 60 as-yet-unreported killings during the
F-FDTL operations last weekend. The committee includes
government, police, and Red Cross representatives. The majority
of the members of both Commissions are highly regarded and are
likely to engage in a serious search for the truth. Reliable
Embassy sources have told Emboffs that both Alkatiri and Gusmao
are pressuring both investigative bodies to begin their work
immediately.



5. (C) Despite these encouraging actions by the Government, one
reliable source reports that Prime Minister Alkatiri was
extremely close yesterday to authorizing the delivery of an
ultimatum to a group of petitioners who are thought to have
gathered in Ermera. The ultimatum would have demanded that they
surrender within hours or that security forces would be sent to
seize them. It is likely that such an action would have been
conducted by the F-FDTL, not the police. Such a move would in
all likelihood have resulted in a return to violence, with some
elements of society coalescing around the Government and F-FDTL
and others around the ex-FDTL petitioners. According to the
Embassy source, who obtained the information from participants
in the meeting, the deliberations changed course after phone
calls by UN Special Representative for the Secretary General
(SRSG) Sukehiro Hasegawa, to both the Prime Minister and the
President in which Hasegawa emphasized to both officials the
importance of avoiding any further confrontations. (Note: It is
our understanding that President Gusmao was not in this meeting
and, like Hasegawa, has urged Alkatiri and other GOET leaders to
avoid confrontation.)

Dismissed soldiers and defecting police not a present threat


--------------------------



--------------------------





6. (SBU) Many rumors over the last two days --- as well as much
of the concern among Alkatiri and members of his Government ---
have focused on two groups that have fled Dili during the last
week and are believed to be hiding in outlying mountainous
districts. The first group consists of an unknown number of
ex-FDTL petitioners, including the leader of the group,
Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, who after the April 28 riot either
dispersed in various places outside Dili and/or coalesced in one
location, generally thought to be near Ermera. According to
some rumors and to statements by some GOET officials, Salsinha
and his group plan either to wage guerrilla warfare in the
mountains or to mount an attack on Dili. It appears
increasingly clear, however, that Salsinha and his group fled to
the mountains primarily because they were afraid of being killed
by their ex-colleagues who remain on active duty in F-FDTL. In
a telephone conversation with an Embassy staff member yesterday,
Salsinha relayed that he trusts neither the F-FDTL nor the
Government and remains convinced that several dozen of his
colleagues were killed by F-FDTL in Tasitolu on Friday night

DILI 00000213 003.2 OF 004


and/or Saturday morning (April 28-29). He stated that he has no
intention to initiate any additional conflict, but that his
group would do "whatever is necessary" to defend themselves if
the F-FDTL were to go after them. During the conversation with
media referenced in paragraph 3 and in a conversation with
Ambassador Rees (see Septel), President Gusmao reported that he
had also spoken by telephone with Lieutenant Salsinha and had
received a similar statement. Gusmao said he then told
Salsinha that he should stay quietly where he is until the
situation returns to normal and then they could address how to
bring him out of hiding. President Gusmao also assured him that
the commission established to investigate the dismissed soldiers
complaints would be fair and credible. According to the
President's chief of staff, Salsinha and the other petitioners
are now drawing up a list of demands or conditions for their
return to Dili.



7. (C) The Embassy has also confirmed that a group of
approximately 19 members of the F-FDTL military police unit
(MPs), together with several PNTL members, departed their posts
on Wednesday night and have gathered in a nearby district. Our
information based on direct contact with members of the group
and with Australian Embassy sources is that this group's
intention was to send a message to the Government that they
disagreed with F-FDTL involvement in quelling the riot --- both
with the decision to call in the armed forces and with the
subsequent abusive manner in which F-FDTL behaved --- and that
the Government would not have the support of all security forces
if it chose to confront the dismissed soldiers with force. The
group is reported to be particularly upset by the
unconstitutionality of the decision to call up the F-FDTL ---
the decision was made without a Parliamentary declaration of a
state of emergency and without consulting the President --- and
by the fact that orders during the operation were all given
orally, thus obfuscating accountability. Some members of this
group, which includes the highly regarded commander of the
military police unit, Lt. Col. Alfredo Reinaldo, reportedly also
feared for their lives at the hands of their F-FDTL colleagues
who led the weekend operations. More information regarding this
group and its intentions will be provided Septel.

Fear and rumors remain an issue and thousands remain displaced


--------------------------



--------------------------





8. (U) Despite continued calm and the Government's steps to
stabilize the situation, an epidemic of panic took hold of Dili
over the last couple days which has resulted in additional
thousands fleeing the city (see reftel B). While a number of
neighborhoods in the city remain normal, with all or most
residents remaining, a large number are completely empty or down
to only a handful of people. Embassy personnel yesterday
observed a constant stream of vehicles loaded down with people
and their belongings heading out of the city. In speaking to
people fleeing Dili, we continue to find that the reasons for
their departure are lack of information, uncertainty, and the
momentum of fear created as more and more people leave. In
addition, people cited the continued F-FDTL presence through
yesterday afternoon as a contributing factor, although it is not
yet clear whether the confirmed departure of F-FDTL from Dili
will contribute to a reversal in the trend.



9. (U) It is unclear exactly how many people are now internally
displaced, but the number is almost certainly in the tens of
thousands. It is likely that it will take at least several
days, and perhaps longer, for many of these people to be
convinced that it is safe to return to their homes. As a
result, the Embassy is concerned that the existence of so many
internally displaced persons (IDPs) may become its own
humanitarian crisis in the days to come, necessitating a
large-scale humanitarian response. Many national and
international non-government organizations are already working
to address food, medical, and other needs. USAID is assisting
in these efforts. These efforts will probably need to continue
and to be expanded significantly in coming days. More details
on the IDP situation will be provided septel.



10. (C) Comment: Despite current encouraging trends toward
normalization, the political situation in East Timor remains
fluid and possibly fragile. There is still potential for

DILI 00000213 004.2 OF 004


another security crisis if the respective actors do not stay
their current course and will need to be tracked closely in the
coming days. For instance, the Government's serious
consideration of an ultimatum to the ex-soldiers was worrying.
However, the reported influence of SRSG Hasagawa's pressure for
moderation indicates that the international/ diplomatic
community can play an important role in helping to keep things
on track. Amembassy Dili and the diplomatic missions of
like-minded countries are engaging in similar efforts.
President Gusmao is also making constant efforts to persuade
Government leaders and their adversaries to remain calm and
non-confrontational. If the trend of the last two days
continues --- with each day being at least a little bit calmer
than the day before --- East Timor is likely to weather the
current crisis. End comment.
REES