Matheos Viktor Messakh
Most people know that Alfredo Alves Reinado is the East Timor’s military police commander turn rebel. Not many know that a misserable childhood, including an abduction into Sulawesi had probably made him a true renenage until his death in an ambush at the house of President Jose Ramos Horta early this week.
Being a fugitive most of his life, Reinado don’t even know his birth date. All that his remember is that he was born in 1966, and only found out later the month of his birth because he learnt that in his family three children born about the same time. After his returning from an abductive life in Sulawesi he found his two cousins and asked them their birth months.
“That’s how I worked out I was born in November of 1966,” he told the East Timor Commission of Reception, Truth and Reconciliation at Naval Base in Hera, outside Dili on March 5, 2004.
Before 1975 he lived with his parents and grandparents in Aileu, a mountainous town district, some 75 Km south of Dili. His grantparents came from Portugal when his father was about twelve years old. “My father’s family was involved in logging business. My mother is from Bislau,” he said.
When the civil war broke out in 1974, the whole family fled to Maubessi, while his father with his eldest sister escaped to Australia. The family lived for quite some time in Maubessi, but then the Indonesian troops set up a base in Maubessi, so they fled further south to the area round Turiscai.
“One night they began shelling and bombarding the area where we were with rockets. We ran away, just anywhere. I became separated from the other members of my family. I ended up just following a group of people that I didn’t know. There were many people hiding there from many different areas. This was about the time when Nicolau Lobato was killed, at the end of 1977,” said the man who became East Timor Navy Commander at the age of 38.
Life in the mountain with Fretelin was horrible life. “When we were running we would often see people dead. There were bodies all around, some with missing parts. But we didn’t think about ghosts then. Death was everywhere. The smell of dead bodies, it didn’t go away.
The noise of people crying because they are hungry. We were lucky if we could eat twice a day. We would fry up the corn one day and make a powder and keep it in one of those square biscuit tins. Then we would eat just a little bit. Everyone was very skinny. People died of fever that was the most common. It’s very hard to forget that.
I saw people kill their children because they were too noisy. They children did make a lot of noise. They were hungry and there was no food. I saw people, old people and children left under a tree by their families with some food.
Fretilin also killed people who did not agree with them. They stabbed people and took some away and we never saw them again. Fretilin also said the Indonesians would kill us all, rape the women, if we surredered. But I didn’t know about politics. I just know that the people led a very miserable life. I remember the angry faces of the Fretilin soldiers. It was very scary. Perhaps because they killed so many people. They were like robots, machines. No smile. If you did anything wrong they yelled at you. But it was not much different with the Indonesians.”
When the group he following made their way to Fatubola in Maubessi, he reunite with his mother and grandmother and his four younger siblings. But he heard that his mother’s brother was killed.
His family decided to surrender, but they were worried about him surrendering as they had heard stories that young men would be killed. So they introduced Alfredo another family and left him with them. As Fretilin didn’t want people to surrender at that time, they had to do this secretly and in small groups.
He continued with the family that his mother introduced him to. They moved all the time, never long in one place. He had to look for his own food. One day, when he and a friend about the same age went to search for food, they came accros Indonesia troops. The troops firing at them and they got separated.
On his run, he saw a Timorese about 16 years-old, falsely followed him right into the Indonesian military camp and get captured. “Until I stopped, I was confronted by guns pointing at me from all directions. I was about 12 years old.”
“The soldiers were all around me. I don’t know what they say. I feel strange. I didn’t really feel scared and I also saw many Timorese children there in the Indonesian camp. They translated for me what the Indonesians were saying. They asked me lots of questions, I can’t remember everything and I didn’t know how to answer. Then they cut my hair. They help up my hair and said things, but I didn’t know what they were saying.”
A few days later, several Hansip arrived with supplies on horseback for the soldiers. One of them recognised Alfredo and asked the soldiers if he could take him to his family in Maubessi. “There was a long serious talk among the soldiers, but eventually the soldiers agreed.”
So he was taken back to Maubessi and meet his family who had live under Indonesian control area. Alfredo remembered that a battalion from Sumatra was in charge in Maubessi at that timea and after he arrived battalion 725 from Sulawesi took over.
Only one week after arriving in Maubisse, he was again force to leave his family. This time, became a porter to Indonesian military or TBO. Alfredo remembered he was playing with some other children in a school yard when a soldier came and called him and told him to go to the soldiers’ post. “His name was Sergeant Mohammad Tahir Abo. He gave me a rucksack with rice and other supplies to prepare to join an operation.”
“My mother came to the post protesting, but the soldier told her that after he finished this operation I could go back home.”
As a TBO, he had to take supplies from Maubessi to another area near Fatubolo. Fatubolo is not very far, as he can see it from Maubessi, but it takes 3-4 hours to walk and is very rugged, he said. “I felt sad and worried. I had just returned home and now I had to go away again.”
His work as a TBO was to cook, collect water, wash the dishes, he was a servant. He and other children moved round all the time with the soldiers. On that first operation he remember they were attacked by the guerillas: “I had to lie behind my soldier (Tahir) and reload the magazine for his gun. I was scared. The shooting went on for about a half hour and we went through six magazines. No one was killed in this operation. One Indonesian soldier got hit in the head and another soldier got a leg injury from a bamboo stake set up by the guerillas as a trap.”
Alfredo told CAVR a story about a young man refuse to took more load as he had already carrying a heavy load on their way to a camp in Maubisse.
“The soldier got angry and loaded his gun. The TBO said to the soldier, ‘Carry on just shoot me’, but he still refused to carry the heavy load. The soldier bashed and kicked him. When they arrived at a destination the commander called all the TBO to come to the parade. The soldiers were already lined up. Then the TBO who had refused to carry the extra load was called to the front. Then they took him to the edge of a rocky ledge.
“He was crying. He was standing facing us. I still remember his face. He was praying. The commander said,’ If you ever do what he did then the same thing will happen to you.’ Then the soldier who he defied walked up and shot him twice. He didn’t just fall. His body was thrown up in the air and then he just lay there. No one went to him to bury him. You couldn’t do that. You couldn’t do anything. I don’t remember his name. The Indonesians had names for us. I remember I was called Kader.”
They were not long there when we moved to the south and then back towards the north into the Baucau area. Alfredo said that was the worst time in his life as a TBO. They had to carry a big load of food and ammunition. They were given an injection at both sides of their thighs, every day when they had to carry heavy loads. “It was a clear yellow liquid. After the injection we didn’t feel tired any more. We felt strong, wide awake and we could keep on walking. At nights the tops of my legs and thighs felt very sore and tired. If they called us for an injection, it means that we had to pack up quickly and be ready to move in one hour.”
This operation round from Turiscai to Baucau took a long time. Sometimes they joined with other battians. Sometimes they did operations only as a platoon.
“We saw what they did to the people. It was very sad. Sometimes they gave the old men and women some food. They would take away the young women, kill their husbands if they protested. They were raped. There was no food and some of them had to go with the soldiers. It was very sad that they had to live like that. We hated the soldiers and they also hated us. We would hear them boast about what they had done.”
Around February or March 1980, when they got to a camp in Aileu, the soldiers cleaned their equipment and the porters knew the soldiers were getting ready to go home to Sulawesi. Then a truck came to take them. Some of the TBO had left and the older TBO were sent on new operations. But the soldiers took others, including Alfredo with them to military base in Taibessi, Dili.
Alfredo recalled that from the platoon he serve there were seven children brought to Dili. Most were TBO except a two year old girl called Amelia and a boy about 12 or 13-year old called Afonso. Amelia was the only one who alive when the platoon came accros a group of people and shoot them all dead during an operation, while Afonso came from somewhere in a consentration camp south of Baucau that the group had passed through. Alfredo was about 13 at that time.
After about a week in Dili, the children heard the military police banned soldiers from taking children out of East Timor. Tahir said the children could come to the port to see the soldiers leave.
“However he added that we couldn’t just go in the car. If the military police found us they would not let us go to the port. So he said we had to hide in a box. I was surprised but I wanted to see the ship.”
“I could see out of the box a bit and I could hear them talking around me. I felt myself being lifted onto the truck and then carried some more. After some time I tried to get out of the box, but the soldiers told to stay hiding because the military police were coming. I still wanted to get out of the box and look around. Then I heard the siren of the ship. After about 20-30 minutes in the box I was feeling very hot and sweaty. Then the soldiers told us we could get out of our boxes. We looked round and we could see that Dili was far away and that we were moving away from the shore. I don’t really know how the others felt. Some were running round and seemed happy. But I felt very sad and was crying. I thought about my mother in Maubessi and I thought that I would never have a chance to go back there. I hadn’t seen them since I was taken from the school grounds.”
Alfredo estimate that there might be about 30-40 children in the boat.
“We couldn’t do anything, couldn’t move round because we were so sea sick. We didn’t even want to look at food. Some of the others were crying.”
After about one week they arrived in Kendari in South East Sulawesi and stay in a barracks for one week. “It was a great culture shock, it was such a different life there.”
Alfredo was taken by Tahir to his parents in Lamikonga village in sub-district of Kolaka, district of Kendari. The other children who went to different places with their soldier.
Alfredo said for the first month they looked after him well and it was good, then things started to change. “I felt more like a slave than a human. Tahir’s mother was good to me but his sister and the rest of his family didn’t like me.They often hit me. Every morning I got up at 6.a.m. I had to fill the water containers in the house and in the bathroom from the well. The well was not too far away, but the house was tall and the buckets of water had to be carried up a long flight of stairs. I had to prepare food for the 40 ducks they kept and collect the eggs. I would then bath, and have breakfast and go to school. Because I didn’t have any money of my own I would take some cakes the neighbour cooked to sell them at school. I made a few rupiah from doing this.”
“In the afternoon I had to fill the tanks with water again. I had to do this every single day. I also had to go and help in the rice fields.”
After two years Tahir got married and lived close to the barracks. He asked Alfredo to come with him. “His wife Kartini was very good to me, she did not make me work so hard, and teated me like family. I always felt secure round her. She was happy when I called her ‘Mum’. Occasionally she gave me money without her husband knowing. She had a younger brother about my age, so perhaps I reminded her of him.
Then things changed for Tahir and he planned to send me back to his parent’s house. Alfredo did not want to go. As he still maintaining his contact with Afonso and Amelia, he and Afonso decided to escape back to East Timor. He was 16.
“We asked Amelia if she wanted to come with us, but she said where would she go, she didn’t know her family and her parents had been killed.”
Alfredo and Afonso went down to the harbour and got on the ferry to Ujung Pandang. They hid at the front of the boat near the anchor. However, Afonso’s soldier, Bachtiar, came looking for them and found us.
Tahir took them back to his house, tied them up and beat and kicked them. “His wife was crying but she couldn’t stop him. We were very black and bruised from the beating. I was also very angry. It made me try harder to escape.”
“The family asked me to be a Muslim and I had to do everything with them. I couldn’t say anything. But in my heart I always thought, I know who I am and where I come from.”
He went back to live with Tahir’s parents. It was like before, and he was treated as a slave.
Though he worked hard, he did well at school. “I finished elementary school and went straight into junior high school. I didn’t have to sit for the usual test. I did well at school and the teachers liked me. I liked biology especially and could remember things. I won an award at school for my class. I still have the certificate.”
One day when he was about 16 years old he visited a friend and stayed overnight without telling the family. Tahir’s sister who was about 23 years of age, who was in charge of the household, was very angry. She made him sit squashed under a bed with a piece of wood under his knees.
“It was very painful and and I was crying. Then her mother came and told me to get out from under the bed. I sat down on the floor. She was ironing nearby. She was asking me things. When I didn’t answer she yelled at me, and pushed the hot iron on my arm burning me.”
He decided he had to escape. But he made a mistake when talked to another soldier about the plan. Tahir heard the plan and beat him till his face was black and swollen.
“That night, with my terrible face and just the clothes I was wearing I crept out of the house. I walked across the paddy fields about three kilometers to the town. It was after midnight. I found a house that was under construction and I lay down on the building materials to sleep. I woke up at 4a.m. and walked another one kilometer and then caught a bus. They let me on without a ticket. Perhaps they saw that I was abused and wanted to help me.”
It was a 6 hour drive to the town on the harbour. There were no boats from there to East Timor. Some people felt sorry for him and let him to come on their boat going to Samarinda in Kalimantan. “I helped in the kitchen to pay for my trip. It was the first time I learnt how people lived on boats. I made friends on the boat and when we arrived they introduced me to people who let me stay with them. I worked with them in the black market. We would go out to get electronic goods and clothing from the boats before they arrived in the harbour and then smuggle them in avoiding paying tax. Then we could sell them cheap. It had nice clothes and a watch.”
In Samarinda he decided to go back to finish junior high school. So he found another job in a vegetable shop, which serve the big mining companies in Kalimantan. He worked from early morning so couldn’t go to the regular school. He enrolled in a private school and attended school in the afternoon.
“It cost Rp 5,000 per month which was quite expensive. Our shop got a lot of vegetables from Surabaya. I liked to go down to the harbour to help collect the vegetables. I got to know some of the people on the boats who brought the vegetables and I heard from them that there were boats in Surabaya that went to East Timor.” He was in Samarinda for nearly two years, till he was nearly 19 years old.
One day, when he had just finished junior high school, he heard there was a boat going back to Surabaya. He decided to go to Surabaya.
“I had not received my certificate. I didn’t care. With just the days wages in my pocket I took off. The pople knew me so they let me on to work on the boat to pay my way. There was something that was a little bit sad about leaving. I had a girlfriend and I left withour telling her. Later I tried to send her a letter but I think it never got to her.”
It took four nights to get to Surabaya. When arrived he just stayed in the port and slept on the boat and kept looking for a boat to East Timor. After four days he was captured by the customs officers who came to check the boat and found him in the kitchen. Because he had no identification card, they took him from the harbour to question him.
“I just told them I was from Samarinda and wanted to go to East Timor to get a job. I didn’t tell them I was East Timorese. I was really afraid they might send me back to Sulawesi, But they let me go.”
Having had no success finding a boat while his money was nearly gone, he decided to meet a military commander to ask for help. “I found the headquarters of the Surabaya military command (Kodam). I had learnt how to approach soldiers. I said I needed to personally talk with the commander. He was away for two days but I kept coming. When he did arrive I was already waiting and he signalled to me. I told him I had something important to tell him and he invited me in. Before I said anything I told him I needed his help. Then I told him my whole story. He told me to come back later. He gave me dinner and gave me a letter.”
When he went back to the port with this letter, everyone became busy looking after him, including the police and port officials. He was given a ticket on a boat. He remembered that the captain and the crew was very nice to him. After four days and five nights they arrived in Dili.
“It was 1986 and I was 19 years old. It was a Saturday – I still remember.”
“I was so happy to see Dili again. But it had changed so much in six years.
The first thing he did was to look for transport to Maubessi. It took him one day. At that time travelling in East Timor needed permission (surat jalan). But he was safe because of the letter he got from the commander in Surabaya. “Well, you should have seen how people reaced when they saw the letter. ‘Where did you get that?’ they asked. They were so surprised, and then they really looked after me very well.”
When he got to Maubessi he looked for his mother’s house but there were different people living there. He had trouble talking with people because he couldn’t speak Tetun. “People just looked at me strangely. I felt very sad. I went down to the market. While there I saw an uncle but he did not recognise me. Suddenly someone called out my name. He said, ‘I’m Thomas, your friend, don’t you remember me?’”
Thomas told him where his mother was living, then they went to see his mother.
“She was so surprised, because she thought I was dead. Every year she used to put out flowers for me in the ceremony for the dead. That was really sad. But I couldn’t talk with her. She didn’t know Indonesian and I didn’t know Tetun. Thomas had to translate for us.”
After found his mother, he went back to Dili to look for his uncle to get work with him. He found his uncle and starting to work in his logging business. He did that for a while, then became a driver and I learnt to speak Tetun.
Alfredo joined the clandestine movement in 1987 where he did lots of missions. “I loved to go sailing in the harbour. Because I was good with boats they gave me a task to damage some Indonesian boats in the harbour. Ya, I was naughty in the sea, but they were my orders.”
After the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, Alfredo had to leave Dili because the military were searching for people involved and especially injured demonstrators. He remembered driving past Tasi Tolu with his colleagues about 1am on their way back to Dili soon after the massacre and they saw Indonesian soldiers digging by the side of the road. “There was an incredible stench of dead bodies. We took off very fast to Dili. We hid in Dili but about 3am we saw a car going past and again smelled the stench of dead bodies. I don’t know what they doing moving the dead around in the middle of the night.”
On May 24, 1995 he married to Maria, a 18-year-old girl whom he meet three years before. Their first son, Billy was six month when they get married. Few weeks after the marriage, he captained a boatload of 18 Timorese to Darwin, including his wife and their baby son. They were the first and only group of Timorese to arrive in Australia by boat.
He found work in Western Australia’s shipyards for four years before returning to his homeland after the historic 1999 referendum for independence.
His nautical skills were quickly put to use by the commanders of the country’s new F-FDTL defense force and he was appointed commander of East Timor’s two patrol boat navy.
During his service in navy, he traveled to Australia to receive military training from the Australian Defense Force, studying defense management in October 2003 and emergency management in August 2004. Alfredo has also received training from the Portuguese military and the Brazilian military.
But his career soured quickly. In July 2004, Alfredo was removed as commander for getting into a fight with the police, and the following year was sent to a three-month naval training course at the Australian Joint Command and Staff College in Canberra. He reportedly become involved with a junior female Timorese soldiers there and was discipline on return by being removed from the navy and given command of a new 33-strong military police platoon, a distinct downgrading. It was a slight he would not forget.
On May 4, 2006 he and 20 members of his platoon, along with four riot police, deserted during a confrontation between sections of the army and the former government over alleged discrimination against soldiers from the country’s western districts. Violence erupted in which 37 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes.
The 2006 violence also helped bring down Mari Alkatiri’s government, but the fear of it being repeated has influenced attitudes to security since then.
He was captured by Australian soldiers in Dili on July 26 on charges of illegally possessing weapons. He was later charged with murder.
On August 30, 2006, he led a mass breakout form Becora prison with 56 other inmates, and has been on the run ever since. The escape created a new crisis for international security forces in East Timor, which were struggling to curb gang violence.
Whilst on the run from authorities, Reinado made an appearance on Indonesia’s Metro TV talk show Kick Andy. Nobody but host Kick Andy and his crew knew the location of the interview.
In mid-April 2007, Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said that the search for Reinado was being called off to facilitate dialogue. Reinado met with Ramos-Horta, who was by this time President, in August 2007, and they backed the initiation of a dialogue that would seek a peaceful resolution.
In early January 2008, Ramos-Horta and Reinado had a secret deal that would see Alfredo pardoned for murder and armed rebellion in an amnesty on May 20, the anniversary of East Timor Independence. Nobody knows why four weeks later, the exchange of gunfire happened at Ramos-Horta’s residence leading to the dead of Alfredo and Ramos-Horta is fighting for his life in Royal Darwin Hospital. The speculation has thrived in this tiny rumor-prone nation, but Ramos-Horta might be able to give clearer picture when he returns.
Alfredo’s life is a drama of childhood affected by violence and politics. From a hidding in the mountain with Fretilin, force recruitment as Indonesian miltary porter, to an abduction into Sulawesi, working in a black market in Kalimantan, attempt to return to East Timor, leading a ‘boat people’ to Australia, promising carreer at newly independent East Timor, lead the ‘petitioner’ rebel hiding in mountain, until his death on Monday morning in Metiaut, outside Dili.
Alfredo might be a bad guy for some people, but he is also a cult hero to many young Timorese. More or less a long military conflict Indonesia brought to East Timor, had made him who he is. It seemed unlikely the movement Alfredo represented would be buried with him, as his cousin Maria Alves addressed the crowd during his burial: “On behalf of the family, we respect you, older brother – we will continue what you left behind, because you died for truth and justice.”