Subject: article: 'East Timor: Coup, Mismanagement, Future' final edn, by Rob
East Timor: Coup, Mismanagement, Future
by Rob Wesley-Smith 7th July 06 (East Timor activist since 1974)
The recent sad events in East Timor ('Timor Leste') came out of the blue to most people. Yet was it a planned coup by Australia as some allege?
In an article in The Guardian 6th July Peter Symond seems in no doubt. But to use as evidence that not long before the Australian forces were invited over to quell the lawlessness they had prepared for such an eventuality is rather tenuous. Blind Freddy could see the need arising. In early 1999 I led a delegation of activists to the North Australian military command to assure them that armed intervention to save the East Timorese from Genocide was supported by human rights activists. We had campaigned on the need for armed peacekeepers since late 1998. Blind Freddy could see the need then too.
Ironically in 1999 blind Alexander Downer could not see the need for armed peacekeepers, or so he argued, so the UN was powerless to enforce its boast to stay and protect the East Timorese in the lead up to the 30th August ballot and thereafter. A couple of years ago again it was blind Alexander who argued that East Timor did not need and could not expect a modest UN delegation including military and police to stay on and help it though its early democratic pains. It is also claimed that Australia deliberately mistrained or avoided training the army so it would be ineffective. Was all this grossly negligent policy an attempt to cause a failed state?
I think the jury is out on this one, but maybe. When you factor in Australia's unrelenting tough stance on negotiations over the oil and gas spoils of the Timor Sea, where the Australian government has taken from East Timor waters over 5 x what it has returned in civil aid, and is appropriating to itself half the% to East Timor, one sees a determined push to keep East Timor poverty stricken. They have not had an economic dividend from Independence, thus rightly fuelling discontent.
But what has Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's role been in all this? Some Left commentators, ignoring all the uniting virtues required of a PM in his situation, have argued he is indispensable because he did not borrow from the World Bank or anyone else, and that he drove a hard bargain on Timor Sea issues. In 2001 he and Peter Galbraith the UN negotiator claimed they were threatened by Alexander Downer, exactly with what is not clear, but it could have been that Australia would withdraw from the UN over Maritime Boundaries, which it did in March 2002, showing a bonsai-Bush contempt for international law. But then Alkatiri with fulsome support from Jose Ramos Horta signed the Timor Sea Treaty on 20th May 2002, Restoration of Independence day, much to the delight of a beaming tricky Alexander, as he knew this would limit East Timor's negotiating position for other areas and for Maritime Boundaries. What brought about this change of attitude? The jury is still out on this one too. I hope Xanana puts a Moratorium on signing or endorsing any Timor Sea agreements until after a newly elected government has a chance to reconsider its whole position, with a view to getting a fairer share of what is theirs by International Law.
East Timor as a country was devastated by the almost complete looting, burning and destruction of its towns, many villages and its agricultural resources. You would have thought the UN and international community would take steps to help rebuild, but apart from some government buildings and some infrastructure this was not the case, leaving NGOs and the better off Timorese to shoulder most of the burden, and the majority poor population to suffer. Should Alkatiri have borrowed? Well, once Bayu Undan was locked in and substantial revenues were about to flow, then why not? This could be paid back in one year. Poverty reduction programs were urgently needed. Perhaps if meaningful poverty reduction programs had been implemented then the present discontent with the Alkatiri/Fretilin government would not have been so volatile. Whilst I blame Australia most for cutting off the funds, Alkatiri must shoulder some blame.
Again the further Left argued Alkatiri has prioritised Agriculture. This is poppycock, when the Agriculture budget was not much over 1% compared to Health being over 40%. Yet as I argued in 2000 in East Timor - Making Amends, (Lee/Taudevin, Otford), agricultural skills and resources could probably solve 80% of the Health problems by improved Nutrition (still and even more lately a desperate need); improved clean Water supply (ditto); improved Sanitation (ditto for refugee camps); and improved Shelter (in Dili now so many houses have been destroyed by criminal acts); - the big 4 'NWSS'.
I notice Peter Cosgrove arguing that soldiers not police were needed this time around. This too is poppycock, few threats existed to the wellarmed ponderous soldiers, what was needed was police who could intervene and take thugs off the streets, and to find out who were the ringleaders. They should have been working with the loyal Timorese police, not marginalising them. Where was their intelligence coming from, and what was it if they did get any? How many houses were burned in Dili after the Aussie troops arrived until now? No one will say. Shades of September 1999 with Cosgrove in charge.
So is this recent unrest a coup, or simply discontent and impatience with the ruling hardline Fretilin party and its stern leader Mari Alkatiri with his negligible PR skills? Investigative journalist John Martinkus revealed that the Timor armed forces leaders had been approached by 2 Timorese and 2 mysterious foreigners about a military role in removing the government, but he didn't reveal names or nationality. So its still anyone's guess from Australia, Portugal, Indonesia, or USA - if forced to choose I would pick the USA, after all they have form in this area.
Has there been planning by marginalised groups in East Timor seeing no other way out from the Fretilin juggernaut? Yes. Does this amount to a coup? Not sure, it may depend on definitions. Do many Timorese welcome a government of national unity? Definitely. This should have been installed in 2002 as President Xanana wanted. Most international support groups fought for a human rights paradise, not for one party.
Deep divisions have now been burned again into Timorese society, so what needs to be done to restore a sense of unity and the way forward? Fretilin must accept some blame for the recent unrest, as apart from its hardline approach, in 2002 Alkatiri appointed as Interior minister Rogerio Lobato who had a record of corruption and manipulation, then failed at the least to stop him arming civilians. Lobato built up the Police at the expense of the Military, which had no meaningful role at all. Alkatiri was reelected recently at the Fretilin congress by shows of hands which is against the rules, then when Lobato was sacked in disgrace he was elected Fretilin vicePresident. And now they seem to want to change the parliament rules to protect themselves, though Alkatiri says he will not seek to evade the prosecutors.
Future: Hopefully a government of national unity will now be installed. This is what East Timor most needs, an ethic of unity. Over the centuries it has been more tribal, with a 'winner take all mentality', and jealousy of the next person or group a defining factor - a major factor even now. Perhaps the Indonesian occupation united it against the oppressor, but then faced the challenge of a complete change of outlook towards constructing a better future. Many have not done this. The Falintil Defence Forces must be sorted out as an urgent first step, overall reduced and better educated, and provided with a meaningful role in border defence maybe, civil defence, green corps, overseas UN postings, etc, but the factions must be united as an example to the nation.
The public service must be chosen on competence not politics, and be given rigorous training to be efficient and noncorrupt. Efficient software for suitable accounting is needed, perhaps as developed in the NT for easy but comprehensive use by indigenous locals. A Public Service Commissioner to oversee appointments is a must. Women need to be supported for more jobs and less domestic violence. Education must urgently be got back on stream, improved, and made free, or many middle class students will be lost to Indonesian schools. Teacher training must be expanded. Those illeducated jobless macho males in Dili must be got into jobs in the countryside if possible. Poverty reduction programs which build better communications, health and environment must be implemented. (If people don't stop burning every leaf in sight East Timor will lose its soil, water resources, food growing capacity, reefs and trees - this is an urgent national priority.) The border with West Timor should be open to free trade, both for competitive reasons and to foil corrupt cartels. Nationwide Cultural support and sharing, and Sport as intra and international activity given a chance to promote unity (Alkatiri did the opposite by banning participation in the last Arafura regional Games). Impunity for crimes especially war crimes must not be sacrificed in the search for forgiveness and reconciliation. Discrimination based on alleged loromonu/lorosae origin must be outlawed. Industrial development was presaged on development on-land of the Greater Sunrise lng project, but this must now be a distant dream given the unrest. And so on.
News to hand is that President Xanana has appointed Jose Ramos Horta interim Prime Minister, with 2 of the more competent ministers Estanislaus da Silva and Rui Araujo as deputies, and I congratulate them all. Jose will have to act as a PM not a diplomat, (that is one who is sent overseas to lie for their country) - Timorese more than most need strong leaders. A strong lead against all forms of corruption, which has become almost endemic, will be needed. Consistency will be important, but he has worked hard and courageously, and as chairman of the board can set a good example. Lets hope all get behind these new arrangements. As Jose is a communicator, lets see a flowering of all forms of communication - let the 100 flowers bloom.
Meanwhile East Timor will have to accept foreign peacekeepers until some of the above gets implemented and bitterness is reduced, until after the next election and then for many years a UN presence for stability and training. Should these forces be under UN or Aussie command? Maybe UN but with an Aussie commander. What we don't need is a UN of nationalities doing training and in jobs like 2000/01 where 80 nationalities sowed confusion. Should English and Indonesian be official languages? I think so. In fact if one has to drop out it should be Portuguese. But maybe that's just my Darwinian perspective.
An important public seminar on the 'Humanitarian Response to the East Timor Crisis' is to be held next Saturday 15th in Sydney, at Petersham Town Hall, organised by AETA and 2 Sydney Councils. Speakers include the new East Timor ambassador to Australia, the CEO of Austcare ex General Mike Smith, and ngo and academic leaders. A concert forms the afternoon aspect, and media and public are especially invited, further info (0428) 755 218 or (02)9519-4788.
Rob Wesley-Smith email@example.com 61 8 89832113 0419 807175 'Australians for a Free East Timor' spokesperson Darwin 30 years supporter of East Timor 30+ years as a tropical rural scientist