Timor Church accused of plotting coup

It has been alleged that senior figures in the East Timor Church approached a defence forces (Falintil-FDTL) commander to lead a coup against the Alkatiri government.

According to Australian journalist John Martinkus, the Church leaders approached commander Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak following the weeks of mass demonstrations against the former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri government in April 2005 but he rejected the offer.

Last year's church-backed demonstrations was prompted by Dr Alkatiri's decision to drop religious education from the curriculum. The Catholic clergy had called for his resignation.

The allegations, published yesterday on the New Matilda website, were made by senior sources within the command of F-FDTL who reportedly told Mr Martinkus that leaders of East Timor's defence forces were approached on three separate occasions in the past 18 months to lead a coup against Dr Alkatiri.

The sources say that early this year Brigadier Ruak was again approached and requested to lead a coup in a meeting with two prominent East Timorese leaders and two foreign nationals. Again, the commander refused, reportedly telling them it was against the constitution and would set an unacceptable precedent.

One of the commander's leading deputies, Lieutenant-Colonel Falur Rate Laek, a veteran of the war against Indonesia, was also approached by the same two local leaders and foreign nationals. He too, refused. According to Mr Martinkus' report, the nationalities of the foreigners were not revealed.

Mr Martinkus says his sources confirmed Dr Alkatiri's claim that allegations against him were politically motivated. Dr Alkatiri has blamed opposition groups within East Timor that had foreign backing for the recent unrest and said this crisis was a foreign backed coup.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, Dr Alkatiri blamed opposition groups for the breakdown of law and order last month that led to at least 130,000 East Timorese fleeing their homes and the total collapse of the East Timorese police force.

He said these people had repeatedly tried to convince prominent commanders in the East Timorese armed forces to overthrow his government in an armed coup. When this failed, they helped provoke the army mutiny which had taken the country to the brink of civil war.

It was the sacking of 600 soldiers from the tiny country's western regions that precipitated the latest violence. The soldiers were protesting what they perceived as discrimination in the armed forces which is dominated by commanders from the country's east where the guerrilla forces fighting Indonesia's 24-year occupation held out.

In an interview with Mr Martinkus, Dr Alkatiri said his political opponents exploited ethnic divisions within the police force to create unrest.

"Then they try to influence the PNTL [national police force]. How did they do it? Through this kind of propaganda, Loromunu, Loro Sae (West versus East). They succeeded in dividing the people within the PNTL. This is the whole strategy.

"Then they put groups of PNTL against groups of F-FDTL in confrontation. And they succeeded again. This is why I requested assistance from outside," he said in reference to the arrival of Australian-led foreign troops in late May.

Dr Alkatiri is adamant the violence was orchestrated as part of a program to topple his government. "It has to be institutions, some organisations inside, assisted by others outside," he said.

He could not identify any of the alleged individuals or organisations and said that East Timor would need some time to investigate. "I think there are outside groups ... can be from Australia maybe from Indonesia but not the governments ... But still I do believe there are outside groups," he said.

Dr Alkatiri stepped down on Monday after Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta resigned in protest over his continued reluctance to quit and his close ally President Xanana Gusmao threatened to do the same.

He denies allegations, aired on last week's Four Corners program, of participating in the arming of a civilian "hit squad" aimed at eliminating his opponents, including Church leaders. Dr Alkatiri said on Monday in a resignation statement that he was stepping down for the good of the nation.

Alkatiri speaks (New Matilda 28/6/06 - subscription required)
Ousting Alkatiri (e-sinchew-i.com 28/6/06)

Timor Church to pursue truth and dialogue (CathNews 28/6/06)
Renewed Church 'uprising' threatens East Timor stability (CathNews 4/5/05)
East Timor church-Govt talks collapse (CathNews, 26/4/05)
Dili "on edge" in Church protest over school curriculum (CathNews 20/4/05)

29 Jun 2006