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Reinado a product of Timorese trauma

Alfredo ReinadoLike many in East Timor, Major Alfredo Reinado, who died attacking the house of President Jose Ramos Horta on 11 February, had a history of violence that was doomed to be repeated. The effects of torture and trauma as a child, combined with a personality that grew ever more desirous of notoriety, propelled him to increasingly dangerous acts.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome affects one third of the population of East Timor — someone in every family — and half have witnessed acts of serious violence. It does not affect everybody in the same way, and some survive as empathetic and generous people capable of forgiveness. However, not everyone has this capacity. Reinado is an example of this.

Born in 1966 Reinado and his family followed the resistance army southward in the wake of the Indonesian invasion of Dili in 1975. He became separated from his mother and was forced to travel with strangers, witnessing death and murder along the way. Made to work as a porter by an Indonesian sergeant he was treated cruelly and witnessed rape and execution. When the sergeant left Timor he hid Reinado in a box and transported him by ship to Sulawesi.

When he was 18 Reinado escaped, and lived on his wits. He finally made it back to East Timor and worked with the resistance.

In July 1995 Reinado escaped again, captaining a fishing boat to Australia with 18 other Timorese. He created a media stir and was seen as a hero by many. With his wife and children, Reinado stayed in Perth, for the next four years working in the masculine environment of the Western Australian shipyards.

Returning to East Timor after the 1999 referendum he was given a position commanding two patrol-boats of F-FDTL, the new army of East Timor, but was dismissed for his cowboy-style management. After some time back at HQ he was appointed Commander of the Military Police.

By 2006 the national reconstruction of East Timor was shattered by bitter internal conflict that rested on a bed of endemic poverty and disillusionment. Thirty-seven people were killed and more than 100,000 internally displaced. Poor, uneducated, disenfranchised gangs of young men filled the vacuum with chaotic violence, looting and burning.

These boys had witnessed the terrible violence of 1999 as 10 to 15-year-olds. On the other hand most of the male leadership involved in the political machinations have been part of a brutal war for most of their lives — their mothers, wives and daughters have often been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Indonesian military or its militias.

The central conflict was between factions in the 1500-strong F-FDTL. A group of around 600 soldiers, mostly from western East Timor, had complained about discrimination from senior 'eastern' military personnel. The 'petitioners' were unceremoniously dismissed and they demonstrated, attracting 2000 supporters. Violence erupted. The UN establishment of both police and army led to further politicisation. Crudely put, some supported the Fretilin government and some supported then-President Gusmao, who had been historically at odds.

Reinado was ordered to 'contain' the petitioners but instead he joined them. He and his men fled to the hills. Reinado was seen to have lined up behind the 'Xanana camp' against the government. He clashed with senior F-FDTL officers and five were killed. Captured in July he was charged with eight counts of murder and possessing weapons. In August he led more than 50 prisoners to escape from prison. He warmed to his public notoriety. For many disenfranchised citizens he became a hero. Some even compared him with Che Guevara.

After Reinado raided police posts for weapons in March 2007 Gusmao lost patience and ordered Australian-led forces to capture him. They failed, and Horta and Gusmao left Reinado in the hills while they ran and won their presidential and parliamentary elections. To kill or capture Reinado would at best alienate voters or at worst lead to massive violence.

A week before he died Reinado was confronted by Australian Forces. Reinado and his partner fired warning shots and made phone calls demanding the troops be withdrawn. It certainly created a feeling of unease amongst the rebels.

With some of the original petitioners soon to be reinstated in the army Reinado must have felt he was losing his grip. Desperately attempting to assert himself at the highest levels of national political leadership, he believed he could force negotiations with the President and Prime Minister at gunpoint. One military expert who knew Reinado described the subsequent attacks, during which Horta was injured and Reinado was killed, as a 'scramble' as things 'came unstuck'.

Reinado's uncle Vitor Alves organised his funeral in Dili, reportedly attended by 2000 people. On 12 February he commented, 'With the help of God with the fall of my nephew ... The situation of instability will finish once and for all and we can find peace. The boy is dead ... It is finished.'

However it is not finished. Stories like Reinado's are not over, and neither are the traumatised reactions of so many to the brutal past and poverty-stricken present.

Most have received little help to overcome the past. The Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation Report (2006) suggests significant work needs to be done. Assistance programs are under-resourced. Meanwhile, the cycle of violence continues and the pain and trauma remains unaddressed and unacknowledged, even among the leadership.


Sara NinerDr Sara Niner is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Arts Faculty at Monash University. She is the editor of To Resist is to Win: the Autobiography of Xanana Gusmão with selected letters and speeches. Her new research into women and handcrafts in East Timor is available here and here. A longer version of this paper was presented by Austral Policy Forum, Nautilus Institute Australia.



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Existing comments

Thank you Sara (and editor) for such a succinct telling of the tragic Reinado-East Timor story. For me it asserts two key actions. First, the necessity for our (global) society to prioritise providing adequate support for those with post traumatic stress disorder. Second, the acute importance of positive role models for teenage boys (not only in Timor) and the direct effect that exposure to violence has on the men they become.

Jane Collopy | 22 February 2008  

The East Timorese are in the same boat as the former Portuguese African colonies. We have rampant corruption, tribal mentalities, factional political division, east versus west hatred, huge division between the rich and poor, low education, a disillusioned young population and a society brutally traumatised as you mentioned.

East Timor needs the same assistance as was provided to Japan and Germany after world war II.

All we are now seeing is a "band aid" approach. The current political leaders are failing in their jobs, the "musical chairs" attitudes will have to end and they should invest state funds immediately into the eduction and training of the young population instead of hording it into an account to accumulate interest.

What we are going to see is the benefits of the interest earnings being wasted on the future social ills of the nation, in the form of high costs associated with crime, domestic violence, corruption and political instability.

Bruno | 24 February 2008  

The article touched hidden aspects of Timorese society. I'm glad academics are bringing up these issues and raising awareness. Trauma is very real in our lives even to the ones who did not experience the violence in the flesh but have a spiritural connection to the ones who went through it.

Elizabete Lim Gomes - EastTimorese | 17 September 2009  

I am Timorese, was born in 1981, living through the occupation times. By the age of 10 I had come to realise that my mother lost her 4 brothers, killed by the occupant forces. My father lost his most loved brother, my second brother survived 12 November massacre in 1991 only to get killed 4 years later by indonesian military because of his active involvement in the struggle for independence. Recently my grandma died happily with smile on her face, whispered to my mother that she finally had come to close the chapter of her sad life and long grieves, by her death she believes that she would be finally reunited in heaven with her sons.

We just want to close our chapter of our country and family dark story just by finding our family member's remains to be properly buried and end for once the grieves that we have had and hope for the better future.

Costa - Timorese | 15 November 2009  

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