Cova Lima, East Timor: Political conflict can lead to consitutional crisis

The isolated district of Cova Lima, Timor-Leste has produced two remarkable stories in the last month.  Both involving Timorese men with a violent political background supporting Indonesia's invasion, occupation and subsequent integration of Timor-Leste in 1975.  Both stories, set in the present, involve President Jose Ramos-Horta.  While one is headline news in the English and Tetun speaking press, the other has received little attention beyond Tetun print and web media.

On 23 September 2009 a prominent former pro-autonomy leader from the Timorese southern coastal district of Cova Lima made a stunning revelation in Dili District court during the trial of those accused of shooting President Jose Ramos-Horta, and attacking Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on 8 February 2008.  Rui Teixeira Lopes admitted to providing now deceased, rebel leader Major Reinado, and the man that lead the attack on Horta, with uniforms procured in Indonesia.

As the increasingly active Centru Jornalista Investigativu Timor Leste (CJITL), [Centre for Investigative Journalism Timor-Leste] reported in a Dili Flash news segment on 25 September 2009 states:

“Rui Texeira Lopes ne’ebe kolega diak grupu Alfredo nian mak sosa husi Indonezia.” [Tet.]

Rui Teixeira Lopes an ally of the Alfredo Group bought [them] in Indonesia.

The report quotes Lopes as saying,

“ Farda Militar nebe Alfredo ho nia grupo hatais ne’e hau mak sosa husi Marina Amerika iha Indonezia” dehan Rui Lopes ba Tribunal.”

The military uniforms worn by Major Alfredo and his group were bought by me from American Marines in Indonesia, said Rui Lopes to the Tribunal.

Lopes further stated:

“Maibe osan ne'e laos hau nian tanba montante osan ne’e Salsinha intrega mai hau hafoin hau ba sosa farda mai fahe ba sira iha subar fatin. Hau deklara buat ne’ebe los ba tribunal mais kuandu ida ne'e mak hau sala karik ohin kedas hau prontu ba tur hamutuk ho maluk arguidu sira ne’e” Rui Lopes hatutan.

But the money was not mine, as the amount of money was given to me by Salsinha [Reinado's deputy] and then I bought the uniforms and distributed them in their hiding place. I declare this to be true but if this is a mistake I am today ready immediately to sit with the accused.” Rui Lopes

Who is Rui Lopes?

In addition to being a former colleague of many wanted war criminals – he is the former Bupati (Indonesian term of District Head) of Cova Lima District, an honourary member of the Indonesian special forces unit Kopassus, and a successful businessman with interests in cross border trade, trucking and is known for breeding racing horses.  In 1999 he supported the pro-autonomy option until the last moment, and then turned on his Indonesian general masters and told the world about TNI plans and actions to “torch” Timor in the wake of a vote for independence. In June 2006 he lead a anti-FRETILIN protest convoy to Dili as part of the effort to oust then Prime Minister Alkatiri.  He was caught on film claiming he was “prontu atu mate – ready to die”.  As blogged by FRETILIN leaning blogger Tatoli, and posted on You Tube.

Rui Lopes Leads Anti-FRETILIN protest convoy near Dili June 2006

Rui Lopes Leads Anti-FRETILIN protest convoy near Dili June 2006

Meanwhile the international press, Timorese websites, blogs and newslists are flooded with stories, gossip and commentary on the Bere Case. The domestic print media has literally used up a valuable forest on the issue.

Who is Bere?

Maternus Bere, was a  subcommander of the infamous pro-Indonesia Laksaur militia, organised, funded and directed by the Indonesian military, and based in Cova Lima district on the south west border with Indonesia.  Laksaur was an extension of the pro-autonomy apparatus funded by the Indonesian military and lead by Rui Lopes and others in Cova Lima.  Laksaur, and Bere, were responsible among other crimes, for the Suai Church Massacre on 6 September 1999, in which over 200 people were killed for their support of the Independence option in the 30 August 1999 UN run Popular Consultation.  Bere was subsquently indicted by the United Nations Special Panel on Serious Crimes, along with numerous other members of Laksaur for the Suai Church Massacre along with other human rights violations.

In summary Bere, a minor government offical in Indonesia and a wanted man for the last decade, crossed the border from Indonesia into Cova Lima district in August 2009. Critically, Tempo Semanal has obtained a copy of Bere's passport, showing it was issued in July 2009 by the Indonesian government, and that he was provided a visa by Timorese police on 5 August, three days before his arrest in Suai.  Bere was arrested by local people on 8 August, handed over the police, and subsequently released on 30 August 2009 by President Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and Minister of Justice.  Bere is currently believed to be in the Indonesian Embassy in Dili

Maternus Bere - subcommander Laksaur Militia, 1999 - Tempo Semanal

Maternus Bere – subcommander Laksaur Militia, 1999 – Tempo Semanal

Civil society reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.  On 25 September the leading weekly newspaper Tempo Semanal, blogged a video taken from the National Commission for Victims of Human Rights Congress meeting in early September, capturing the feelings of civil society – being frustration and anger.

The leading Opposition party, FRETILIN has introduced a motion to censure the Government, and is suggesting it will quit Parliament if the vote goes in support of the Government.

FRETILIN argues that the release is grossly unconstitutional, and is the last straw after a series of allegedly illegal actions by the Government and its Ministers over the last 2 years.  These actions include but are not limited to corrupt activities by the Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, the husband of the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, to but a few.  Tempo Semanal has published dozens of corruption stories in the last year.

Additionally, Tempo Semanal obtained a copy of dispatch by Claudio Ximenes suggesting that the release of Bere was unconstituional and thus illegal, even going so far as to indicate that the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, if found in breach of the law face jail terms of 2-6 years.  Prime Minister Gusmao responded by stating. ““I know where Becora prison is so as soon as a court sentence I will go there my self.”

Indeed the grand old man of Timorese politics, the country's first President, and the Proklamador (Proclaimer) of independence on 28 November 1975, Fransisco Xavier Amaral has declared that President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao “La Iha Klamar – Have no Soul”.

The politico-legal witch's brew emanating from Cova Lima is threatening to engulf the country in a constitutional crisis, once again.  The events of 1975, 1999, and 2006 reverberate in 2009.  And to think, the Government wants investors to join it in pumping hundreds of million of dollars into major oil and gas infrastructure projects in Cova Lima and other south coast areas.


Centru Jornalista Investigativu Timor Leste (Centre for Investigative Journalism Timor-Leste) – CJITL

CJITL has been online for a year or so, but is proving to be a powerful new media outlet in Timor-Leste.

CJITL Screenshot

CJITL Screenshot

Written almost entirely in Tetun, an obscure language to those outside of Timor-Leste, and even to most foreigners inside Timor-Leste, CJITL is a daily online publication.  It compliments the groundbreaking work that weekly Tempo Semanal is doing.  Indeed, the CJITL see Tempo Semanal as something of an inspiration.

A little known fact about CJITL is that its webmaster is a Timorese working in the IT section of a major UN peackeeping mission in Africa – he learned his trade working for the UN in Dili.  Probably one of the UN's more successful acts of capacity building, even if by accident.

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