Australian peacekeepers in East Timor have arrested a leader of rebel troops for illegal weapons possession, following the expiration of a gun amnesty. Alfredo Reinado, a former army major, headed a group that includes renegade soldiers whose dismissal from the army in March sparked unrest in East Timor.
Australian soldiers detained Alfredo Reinado and 21 of his supporters in the East Timorese capital, Dili, on Tuesday night, a day after the expiration of a gun amnesty designed to contain recent violence.
Australian army Brigadier Gus Gilmore confirmed the arrest to reporters in Canberra Wednesday.
"Major Reinado and the 21 that he was apprehended with were apprehended in accordance with the status of forces agreement," he said.
Gilmore also said unauthorized handguns and ammunition were confiscated. He said the rebels now will be dealt with by the East Timorese authorities.
Canberra is leading an international force of 2500 troops, which also includes troops from Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal.
It was deployed in May to restore peace after fighting broke out between rival factions of the East Timorese military.
The troubled flared when former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed 600 soldiers who had gone on strike complaining of discrimination.
Violence between rebel soldiers and government forces escalated into a complete collapse of law and order and eventually forced the resignation of Mr. Alkatiri. Fighting between rival ethnic and regional gangs left more than 20 people dead and forced tens of thousands of terrified residents in Dili to flee their homes.
The arrest indicates that the government of new Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta is slowly reclaiming control of the troubled country.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday that Australia expects to significantly reduce its troop level in East Timor - now at 1300 - by the end of the year.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he hopes a U.N. force will eventually take over the peacekeeping operation in East Timor. Australia has yet to decide whether to deploy policemen under a U.N. mandate in East Timor.