Subject: The Age: Timor's Political Unity Strained

The Age [Melbourne] Wednesday 5 January 2000

Timor's political unity strained

By MARK DODD DILI

Internal wrangling, a looming leadership vacuum and growing unease over the relationship with the United Nations threatens to split East Timor's main political coalition, the National Council of Timorese Resistance.

Already two of the best-known independence leaders have ruled themselves out as presidential contenders when East Timor gains full independence within two to three years.

The council's president and former jailed independence leader, Mr Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, said he would not seek the presidency.

The Nobel peace prize laureate, Mr Jose Ramos Horta, a council vice-president, said last week he also planned to retire from active politics by mid-year.

Council sources said that Mr Gusmao is at odds with Falintil hard-liners within the council who want to retain power through local administrative structures formed during the independence struggle. The hard-liners are grouped as the Internal Political Front led by veteran independence activists Mr David Ximenes and Ms Maria Paixao.

The World Bank wants hamlet, village and sub-district elections as a precondition for an ambitious community empowerment project but may withhold the disbursement of millions of dollars in foreign aid if the democratic reforms are not to its liking.

Old rivalries between Falintil and loyalists from the former Timorese Democratic Union, grouped around the Carrascalao clan, have also raised tensions within the fragile political grouping formed to represent unified East Timorese interests in dealing with the UN transitional administration.

In 1975, the Timorese Democratic Union, some of whose members supported integration with Indonesia, fought a brief and bloody war against Falintil's political predecessor, Fretilin, before Indonesia invaded to take control of the former Portuguese colony in a struggle that would ultimately claim more than 200,000 East Timorese lives.

Mr Gusmao has called for a code of conduct for senior officials over concerns of nepotism and corruption resulting from self-interest linked to property and business holdings by members of the National Council of Timorese Resistance.

In one case a Portuguese-educated lawyer, a member of the council, offered his Australian-based law firm to act as a consultant to the council.


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