01 January 2011

Timorese rebel demands back pay

Sydney Morning Herald Lindsay Murdoch January 1, 2011 DARWIN: Gastao Salsinha, the rebel commander convicted of attempting to murder East Timor's top two political leaders, is stirring trouble again only four months after being pardoned and released from jail.

Mr Salsinha claims that he and 23 men who were sentenced to up to 18 years' jail for attacks in Dili have never been dismissed from the army and deserve salary and compensation payments totalling tens of thousands of dollars.

The former army lieutenant has also told the Timorese newspaper Tempo Semanal that people still in power who used his group for political purposes have not being brought to justice.

''It is clear we fell victim to some politicians … it was all their gamesmanship to promote their own interests,'' he said.

Interviewed at his small coffee-growing farm in East Timor's western mountains, Mr Salsinha said he planned to bring together again more than 600 former disgruntled soldiers whom he had led at a time of political upheaval in 2006. Most of the men were paid $US8000 government compensation and returned to live with their families.

Mr Salsinha also revealed he had sent a letter of demand to the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, and to the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, the two men he was convicted in March of attempting to kill.

''We continue to demand we are still members of the military forces because we have not yet been expelled, nor has there been a written statement from the state or government to this effect,'' he said.

Mr Salsinha said he and his men missed out on the soldier compensation payments because they were in jail.

Mr Salsinha served only five months of a 10-year jail sentence before Mr Ramos-Horta pardoned him and the other rebels in August, saying they were victims of a breakdown in the political system.

Mr Ramos-Horta was left near death after rebels went to his house on Dili's outskirts in 2008. The rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and one of his men were shot dead at the house. Mr Salsinha led a separate attack on Mr Gusmao, who escaped unhurt.

Mr Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, has pardoned or commuted sentences for more than 200 people since 2007. He says preventing instability is more important than punitive justice

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