The former head of East Timor's military police, Reinado, 39, is to some his country's tormentor and to others its best hope. It's now nearly four weeks since he gathered 28 of his most loyal men and their weapons and vehicles and quit the capital. Disgusted by the government's use of the Army to crush a protest by striking soldiers, he vowed not to return until the government promised an official inquiry. For two weeks he and his soldiers sat and waited in Aileu. Then, last Monday, he went to the hills east of Dili to investigate claims that the Army had been firing on western East Timorese there. Minutes after he arrived in the area, he says, a television journalist asked him for an interview. As he answered the reporter's questions, his men warned him that government troops were coming.
"I called out to [the troops] not to come any closer so we can talk," Reinado says. "They don't stop. So I give them a countdown or I shoot. They keep coming, so I shoot." Outnumbered and outgunned, he and eight of his men fought for nine hours before managing to withdraw into the steep hills, beyond the reach of government forces. One man was badly wounded, and died on the way back to Aileu.
Since that day, Reinado has been the invisible but devastatingly effective director of East Timor's rebel forces. Holed up in his eyrie at Maubisse, he has welded a bunch of former police, disgruntled soldiers and youth into a ragtag militia with one thing in common[EM]their origins in the country's west.
Under his command, the rebels have managed to seize and hold the heights overlooking the three main access roads into the capital. At times they have probed Dili's outer suburbs, menacing the Army headquarters with a brazen attack on the barracks at the city's edge.
"If [the government forces] push me. I will push back at them," says Reinado, who last year completed a three-month course in maritime planning at the Australian Defence College in Canberra. "If I wanted to, I could be in Dili two days ago. But I'm not a criminal. I don't want to injure civilians. So far, no civilians have been hit by any bullets of my men."
Juggling three mobile phones, Reinado gives orders, takes calls from journalists, and snipes at East Timor's government. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri is "just a cockroach," he says with a laugh. "He tried to kill me. But I never hide. They know where to find me. I'm waiting for them."
To a caller who asks about the arrival of Australian troops, he says: "What do the Aussies do here? Why aren't they out having a look around? Are they here for a holiday?" Later, over curried chicken and fried rice in the pousada's once grand dining room, Reinado holds court among his admiring followers, whose automatic rifles are left loaded and ready at the door.
He says Alkatiri and other former resistance fighters in the government are communists who've been talking about buying surface-to-air missiles "to shoot down planes." Their ideas are outdated, he says: "None of the young people think that way now." But Reinado says he has no political ambitions. "I'm an officer. My loyalty is to my President [Xanana Gusmão]."