4 June 2006
Apart from news concerning its negotiations with Canberra over oil and gas deposits in the waters separating it from Australia, East Timor has rarely been mentioned in the world media since the end of its widely covered independence struggle in 2002.
In recent weeks, however, the tiny nation of around a million became once again a center of media focus as a result of its increasing slide towards the brink of civil war. With violence escalating, mobs trashing cars and buildings, people fleeing the capital city, Dili, or seeking refuge at foreign embassies and the UN compound, foreign troops arriving to halt the unrest, and hundreds of international workers being evacuated, , it seems the country’s whole system has collapsed and the dreams the Timorese fought for have been lost.
The failure of the authorities to deal with the crisis has demonstrated how weak the government is. On the other hand, the quick development of a mere protest by 600 disgruntled soldiers into a large-scale bloody conflict has clearly shown how the state is vulnerable to the culture of violence, something stemmed from four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and more than two decades of brutal Indonesian occupation and bloody independence struggle.
The crisis was initially triggered by the dismissal in March of nearly half of the 1,400-army on the grounds of cost-cutting, an action that led to a rebellion by the dismissed soldiers, who were entirely from the western part of the country. Soon sporadic battles between the rebels and the military spread to violent clashes between rival gangs from east and west, especially after a large number of bored Dili youth and nearly 70 percent of the country’s police force attached themselves to the rebels.
East Timor’s current crisis, however, is deeper than that and is attributed to numerous factors. It is not only a reflection of long mistrust and systematic discrimination against the western-born soldiers by easterners, who claim to have alone played a key role in winning the war against Jakarta. It is also a reflection of deep ethnic and political divisions that have been concealed during the years of struggle for independence. This, coupled with factionalism within the ruling Fretilin party, regional ethnic and religious rivalries, and the country’s poor resources that have prevented the launch of economic development and the reduction of rising unemployment.
Other factors include the way Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a Muslim of Arab origin, has administered East Timor since 2002. Commenting on the unrest, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that “the country has not been governed well over the past few years”. Such a view is shared by many including the rebels’ leader Gastao Salsinha, who accused Alkatiri of being aloof, arrogant, and corrupt, pointing in particular to the latter’s reluctance to respond to the grievances forwarded by soldiers from west and his family’s business dealings. The strong Roman Catholic church, to which nearly 92 percent of the population belong, is also dissatisfied with Alkatiri’s handling of Timor’s affairs, probably on the background of his decision last year to make religious education in schools optional rather than compulsory.
There have also been many reports saying Alkatiri’s controversial leadership style have brought him into direct conflict with the father of independence, President Xanana Gusmao, leading the latter to support Alkatiri’s political opponents, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta. Differences between the two men go back to the early months of independence when Gusmao supported the adoption of a presidential system and Alkatiri fought for the current parliamentary system. This has intensified over the past four years, owing to Alkatiri’s controversial foreign policies.
According to Loro Horta, a former adviser to the East Timorese Defence Department, examples of such policies include Alkatiri’s “refusal to accept loans from the World Bank, despite a gross domestic product per capita of a mere $400” and his growing tilt towards the Cuban and other leftist regimes in Latin America. Both Gusmao and Ramos-Horta are of the opinion that East Timor must not have a foreign policy that is overtly confrontational to the West.
Another example of Alkatiri’s controversial policies, which Loro Horta attributed to his long mingling with abusive African leaders during 24 years in exile in Mozambique, is his insistence on keeping more than $500 million in oil and gas revenues earning interest, rather than spending it on development projects.
As a result, Alkatiri’s personal popularity, once as high as that of Gusmao’s, has steadily waned leading to mounting pressure on the latter to sack him. But Gusmao, who is constitutionally little more than a figurehead, has no such power, especially now that the ruling party has overwhelmingly reelected Alkatiri as secretary-general.
Responding to calls from the rebels to resign, Alkatiri said that he would step aside only if there were someone good enough to replace him, adding that no such person exists. This serves as additional evidence of his arrogance.
*Academic researcher and lecturer on Asian affairs
"Domingos Martins" <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, 17 Jun 2006 08:50:57 +1000
Insight of East Timor’s political histroies:
Following centuries of colonisation by the Portuguese and then occupation by the Indonesian military since 1975, the people of East Timor (Timor Leste) voted for independence in a popular referendum in 1999 and the United nation finally took Timorleste from Indonesia and gave it independent in May 2002.
Timor Leste is an extremely poor country that has suffered serious destruction of its infrastructure in the wake of Indonesia's troop departures following the referendum. With aid assistance from the international community, a massive rebuilding effort was suppose to take place, but in the future it is likely that much of this will be funded from revenues from oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.
This paper focuses on these resources and the long drawn out negotiations between Australia and East Timor over their ownership and control. Australia has successfully negotiated a very favourable outcome that has soured relations between the two countries. Parallels are drawn with other situations where rich and poor nations are in the process of negotiating joint development of resources in the offshore zone.
However the present crisis’s indicate to us that the future of East Timor is uncertain due to the politically conspiracy created to decentralize the Country for the next colonisation and exploretation.
East Timor is the newest state of the twenty–first century. Yet its human development indicators compare with the most severely collapsed states in the world.
Two and a half years of international administration by the United Nations seems to have had little effect on a social and political reality that has evolved by itself. In effect, the UN has given birth to a failed state. The purpose of governorship types of intervention — which attempt to (re) build governments that have collapsed or states that have failed — was to take control of a local political process and break with an abusive past.
This aim was the rationale behind the most total form of international administration — UN statehood and international sovereignty in East Timor. In practice; however, the intervention failed to decentralize its own absolutist form of authority, but succeeded in excluding the local population from the equation.
If there is to be any future for interventions that are both effective and legitimate, then they will need to guarantee much greater and genuine integration of the local population. Participatory intervention' is the next doctrinal puzzle to solve in the evolution of international state–building enterprises of any brand.
Current Violence in Timor-Leste, We have watched the unfolding situation in Timor-Leste this past week with deep concern. I do not believe that events had to escalate to this point, is because of poor management from the government of East Timor, I do not have complete information about the current situation and its causes. Below are our initial reflections:
The intervention by foreign military and police forces is a sad event for Timor-Leste, whose hard-won political independence has had to be laid aside we hope for only a short time because leaders and state institutions have been unable to manage certain violent elements of the population and security forces.
Now that foreign forces are being deployed -- at the request of Timor-Leste's government, with the stated support of rebel leaders, and the welcome by most of a terrified population -- we hope that they serve their intended purpose in quelling the violence and allowing negotiations and a peaceful resolution, as well as the identification and arrest of those who have committed crimes.
Outside intervention is a temporary solution at best. Timor-Leste must find ways, with respectful support from the international community, to deal with problems in a manner that will not require troops.
Statements by Australian government leaders that providing security assistance entitles them to influence over Timor-Leste’s government are undemocratic, paternalistic, and unhelpful. Who governs Timor-Leste is a decision to be made by its people within its constitution.
Key countries -- including those now sending troops and police -- must examine their roles in relation to the new nation, including the training provided to Timor-Leste’s security forces.
Australia bears special responsibility for Timor’s underdevelopment by refusing to return revenues, totaling billions of dollars, from the disputed petroleum fields in the Timor Sea, including Laminaria-Corallina, and by bullying Timor-Leste into forsaking revenues that should rightfully belong to it under current international law and practice.
As in 1999, we must not forget that the Australian government’s actions have contributed to the situations their peacekeepers have now been sent to correct.
Australia should not view its current assistance to Timor-Leste as a favor, to be repaid, but instead as a partial repayment for the debt Australia owes the Timorese people for its help during WW II and for Australia's deep complicity in Indonesia's invasion and occupation.
Independent Timor-Leste had a violent birth. The legacy of Indonesian occupation left the people of the new nation deeply traumatized and impoverished, without governmental institutions and experience. Those who orchestrated, implemented and aided the illegal occupation have never been held accountable.
I wonder if international and Timorese failures to ensure justice have led some in Timor-Leste to believe that their own use of violence would be met with similar impunity.
As described in the recent report of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources several countries - among them U.S., U.K., and Australia - bear a special responsibility to ensure justice and accountability due to their action and inaction from 1975 on. Reparations, as called for by the Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources would help alleviate the poverty and joblessness that have fueled some of the unrest.
Other political conspiracy as mention above U.S., U.K are only there, for the support of their allies to Australia.
It must not be forgotten that despite its many problems, the transition from occupation to UN administration to independence has been relatively peaceful, especially when compared to the experiences of many other post-colonial countries.
I hope that the recent violence -- which appears to have complex causes -- proves to be an exception, I hope the key political, security force and other actors in the current crisis to evaluate their own actions and recommit themselves to the spirit of national unity and public service, which so ably provided the foundation for the independence movement.
Timor-Leste needs to examine whether or not it wants a military and, if so, what is its purpose. In addition to addressing the past, the Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources report provides useful recommendations for implementing rule of law and improving justice and accountability in independent Timor-Leste.
We urge the international community and the UN, especially the Security Council, to work with Timor-Leste to complete the nation-building and development tasks to which they have already committed.
If Timor-Leste is to become the success story it has already been portrayed as, further international support is necessary. However, this support must be given in an honest spirit that supports real self-determination and empowers the Timorese people to take full charge of their own destiny.
Present political unrest in East Timor is the failure of the United Nations, who has taken East Timor from Indonesia and gave it independent and Australian government who played the leading roll in pushing East Timor toward Independent; of course this was in the interest of Australia so it can exploit East Timor resource.