|Subject: Max Stahl: No One Heeded Timor
Warning Signs; LAT: Bloodied ETimorese Hope U.N. Will Return
The Irish Times Monday, June 5, 2006
No One Heeded Timor Warning Signs
By Max Stahl
EAST TIMOR: Even as foreign forces arrive to try and quell violence and looting, East Timor is still staring into the abyss of civil war, writes Max Stahl in Dili.
While gangs of youths still roam Dili shooting and looting in sectarian attacks, the appointment, at President Xanana Gusmao's instigation, of Nobel-laureate foreign minister Joseph Ramos Horta as defence minister, appears likely to calm tensions in the divided country.
Gusmao and Horta have both the support of the army and state apparatus, dominated by the country's easterners, and are believed to have the respect of the dissident mountain people from the west who have fled the capital in large numbers.
East Timor has been staring into the abyss of civil war. Much of the capital Dili lies smouldering in ruins. Perhaps two-thirds of its people have fled to the mountains or to refugee camps huddled around churches or to foreign forces for protection from the gangs who have been torching and looting the city.
International intervention forces - 1,800 from Australia and further contributions from Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand are back. This is less than seven years after they landed to save Timor from a scorched-earth campaign and slaughter at the hands of Indonesian military and militia and just four years after the United Nations handed over power to the leaders of the world's newest nation in an orgy of self congratulation and optimism.
Yet just weeks ago East Timor was seen as a model solution for failed states around the world. The world community invested about $3 billion here. The UN ruled this country for 2Â½ years, acting for the first time in UN history as midwife for a new nation and overseeing the setting up of democratic institution
When World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz visited in April, just two weeks before this crisis began, he heaped praise on the "functioning economy and vibrant democracy".
On May 19th, the prime minister, Dr Mari Alkatiri, was re- elected by more than 90 per cent of some 600 delegates at the first open party congress of the dominant national party and party of government to be held since East Timor was invaded and occupied by Indonesia in December 1975.
May 20th was due to be the formal end of the seven-year UN mission here.
By May 23rd, there was shooting in the streets of Dili. Within a week it looked like all-out war with the police fragmenting and taking on a divided army in heavy gun battles.
Within days young people carrying iron bars, knives and fabricated steel darts divided up the city in vigilante gangs. Looting and criminal opportunism soon followed.
For more than 100,000 ordinary people on the run, this is the cruellest twist. Seventy per cent of them lost their homes and possessions only in 1999. Before that they lost some 180,000 dead, about a quarter of the pre-war population, through war, starvation and disease in a 24-year occupation by Indonesia. Today it appears that they are back where they started.
For ordinary people it is bewildering and desperately depressing. But all-out civil war, which would make the current disaster look small, could still come.
The warning signs have been there to those who cared to see them, ignored not just by foreigners but by a government which may regret paying more attention to UN models than to its own history and people.
The trouble began in the army, the core and cradle of East Timor's independence movement.
The UN and bilateral agencies were concerned to build a non-political army. They championed the renaming of the East Timor Defence Forces. They commissioned a report from King's College London on the threat profile and an appropriate force posture and oversaw recruitment to create a strictly professional army along European lines.
But Falintil, the armed forces for the liberation of East Timor, which survived 24 years of struggle against overwhelming odds, was an alliance of regional and ethnic groups whose victory came not so much through force of fire-power, as through politics.
Commanders worked with their local communities, learning to listen and lead a grassroots mass movement.
In post-independence East Timor, Falintil's history connected it to the people - for good and ill - far more closely than the recent UN-approved institutions of parliament, government, judiciary and police.
From the first recruitment into the new army, some communities felt undervalued as others were over-represented. Some veterans were ignored while sons of pro-Indonesian families - even militia - were preferred.
The stresses emerged in bitter internal conflicts. Earlier this year, almost half the army walked out accusing key commanders of abuse and regional "discrimination" in promotions and disciplinary matters.
On UN military legal advice, 595 striking soldiers were fired when they refused to return to barracks. Young people from soldiers' families and communities and then marginal political groups flocked to a week-long protest staged by the dissident soldiers. Dr Alkatiri and the speaker of parliament made no move to meet them.
The sacked soldiers and their backers embarked on a wrecking spree, attacking government buildings and torching homes.
The UN-trained police force scattered. Some stood by, some fired indiscriminately into the crowd, taking sides in the melee. Dr Alkatiri - a returned exile not popular with many veterans and young people - called in the loyal army who drove their former colleagues and their supporters into the hills in a day and a night of terror, where the fugitives claim dozens died.
The dissidents from the west fled to their home districts alleging a massacre by the easterners, more soldiers defected and were joined by many western police. Amid clashes, more than half the population of the capital followed seeking shelter in their regions of origin and giving political substance to the soldiers' claims to represent the popular will.
Through these events over the past month, the institutions created, advised or supported by the UN and then handed to the independent government have failed.
Some, like the police, fragmented and evaporated, others like the parliament and the justice system, called upon to investigate abuses, remained on the sidelines. Most of the ministries were abandoned and even the party congress of East Timor's governing party Fretelin - once a great grassroots force but which was revived top down after many years in cold storage - failed to explore or debate the issue.
Today the alienated gangs of young people, who are turning to looting and sectarian burning and killing, and the dissident soldiers in the mountains are the ones talking grassroots politics, and demanding the dissolution of the government.
International forces are back to hold the line to give time for a debate to happen which the western-style political institutions they laboured to nurture failed to hold.
Max Stahl is a journalist and freelance documentary film-maker
The Los Angeles Times Monday. June 5, 2006
Bloodied East Timorese Hope U.N. Will Return
When peacekeepers left, the tiny Southeast Asian nation unraveled with stunning brutality.
By Richard C. Paddock, Times Staff Writer
DILI, East Timor—The police officers, more than 60 in all, surrenderred their weapons to the United Nations and marched out the gate of the national police headquarters. Walking at the head of the column was a U.N. official holding a blue U.N. flag to show that the group was under his protection.
When the police reached the Ministry of Justice a block away, members of the fledgling nation's army were waiting. At least two soldiers opened fire, killing 10 police officers and wounding 27, including two of the U.N. police advisors.
"It was horrible," said a U.N. advisor who witnessed the May 25 massacre. "It was brutal, it was one-sided, and it was unnecessary."
The slaughter of unarmed officers while under the protection of the United Nations was perhaps the darkest moment in the brief history of the world's newest country, which until recently had been seen as a model of U.N. nation-building.
U.N. peacekeepers first arrived in East Timor in 1999 after the then-Indonesian province voted to secede and pro-Indonesia militias responded by killing at least 1,000 people and destroying 70% of its buildings.
With the U.N. having restored order, East Timor held its first free election in 2001, and the U.N. provided specialists to help rebuild institutions such as the judiciary, the police force and the government administration.
Last year, however, the U.N. pulled out its troops under pressure from the United States and Australia to use its resources elsewhere. Political tensions began building and erupted this year into violence.
In recent weeks, the country of 1 million people has unraveled with stunning speed and brutality as the army and police have battled each other in the capital, thugs wielding machetes have cut down rivals in the streets and arsonists have set fire to houses, burning children alive.
At least 30 people have died and hundreds of houses have been destroyed, with 100,000 civilians seeking refuge in makeshift camps since late April.
An Australian-led intervention force began arriving in East Timor just hours before the police massacre and has restored a measure of calm to Dili, the capital. Heavily armed Australian troops now guard key government buildings and roadways; soldiers patrol Dili on foot and rumble through the streets in armored personnel carriers.
But violence continues, with reports Sunday of at least one shooting, the torching of several houses and renewed gang fighting.
Many attribute the surge in violence to Prime Minister Mari Bin Amude Alkatiri's mishandling of complaints of discrimination within the military and his reliance on loyal but brutal army units to suppress antigovernment protests. The army also began attacking members of the nation's police force.
"You have two institutions with weapons that were poorly managed," said Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, who received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to win East Timor's independence. "All of this coupled with a weak economy, unemployed youth — it was a problem waiting to explode." Alkatiri, whom many view as stubborn and arrogant, also has come under criticism for his slow progress in building the nation's economy and for overseeing a system in which his relatives have been awarded lucrative government contracts for road construction projects and providing arms to the police.
Much is at stake for Alkatiri, who was elected to his powerful post by the nation's parliament, and for East Timor in the next year. The island nation has received the first $600 million in oil revenue from fields in the Timor Sea and billions more are expected, a boon to its limited economy. Elections will be held next year, and some accuse Alkatiri of inflaming divisions in society as a way of maintaining power.
Four years ago, in a grand celebration attended by representatives of 90 nations, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan personally handed power to former resistance leader Jose Alexandre Gusmao, the nation's first president. "Never before has the world united with such firm resolve to help one small nation establish itself," Annan told the crowd that day.
Now some, including Annan, are questioning whether the United Nations was too quick to withdraw.
"There has been a sense that we tend to leave conflict areas too soon," Annan said last week. "Would it have made a difference if the U.N. had stayed longer, if we had not drawn down our forces too quickly? This is something that I must assess."
Sukehiro Hasegawa, the head of the remaining U.N. mission in East Timor, was blunter in calling for a greater commitment from the international body. At the least, he said, the U.N. should run next year's elections to ensure that they are fair.
"This country still has a chance, and the Timorese leaders and people are asking for continuing U.N. support," he said. "They need us."
East Timor, which shares the island of Timor with Indonesia, has endured a long, tortured past.
After 400 years as a Portuguese colony, it was on the verge of independence in 1975 when it was annexed by Indonesia with the quiet support of the United States. East Timorese rebels took to the mountains and fought for independence for the next 24 years in a conflict that claimed about 200,000 lives.
Indonesia agreed in 1999 to allow a vote on secession, and the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence. In retaliation, pro-Indonesia militias launched their killing rampage. As Indonesian troops withdrew, a U.N. peacekeeping force led by Australia landed to restore order.
In East Timor's 2001 election, people lined up for hours to vote and turnout reached a stunning 93%. Many voters cast their ballots for Gusmao, known by his nom de guerre, Xanana, believing the charismatic former guerrilla leader would govern the country. But the nation's constitution had established a weak presidency and a strong prime minister's office, which went to Alkatiri, a skilled inside operator who led the majority party in parliament.
"We voted for Xanana but got Alkatiri," said Saturnina de Costa, a mother of three who fled with her family to the Comoro refugee camp in Dili when the fighting started. "Why did Alkatiri become our leader?"
Alkatiri's government faced a major challenge this year when 600 soldiers who were recruited from the western part of the country after independence complained that they faced discrimination from veterans of the war, who come mainly from the east.
Alkatiri responded by firing the disgruntled soldiers, who made up nearly half the country's 1,400-member army.
When an anti-government protest by the former soldiers and their supporters turned violent April 28, troops loyal to Alkatiri fired into the crowd, killing at least six people. The former head of the military police, who has since escaped to the mountains, has accused Alkatiri of giving the order to fire on civilians, a charge the prime minister denies.
From there the situation deteriorated. East Timorese troops loyal to the prime minister began searching homes in Dili for government foes. The soldiers who had been fired retreated to the hills. The army suspected that some police officers were sympathetic to the rebel soldiers and the two forces clashed.
Gusmao has called for calm, but has resisted firing the prime minister. Alkatiri retains a strong base in Fretilin, the party of the resistance movement, which won a majority in parliament.
Fighting between the army and police reached a peak May 25, when army troops attacked the national police headquarters in the center of Dili.
Saif Malik, the U.N. police commander, negotiated a cease-fire and arranged for the police to surrender their weapons to the U.N. in exchange for safe passage. Malik did not require the soldiers to lay down their guns nor did he take advantage of U.N. vehicles to ferry the police from the base. Malik himself led the group down Rua Jacinto de Candido holding the U.N. flag.
According to U.N. officials and witnesses, a small group of soldiers waited by the roadside with their weapons as the column approached. As the police passed by, one soldier began shooting at them with an M-16. Another soldier fired an M-1 carbine, apparently targeting a specific officer. One or two other soldiers may also have fired. Many of the victims were shot in the head.
"I lodged the strongest protest," Hasegawa said. "This is a gross violation of human rights and a breach of understanding reached by U.N. police advisors who negotiated with the [army]. It's a miracle only two U.N. officers were injured."
Soon after the massacre, Australian troops began taking control of the capital, and the soldiers and police who remained in the city fled. That temporarily left much of Dili unprotected, and roving gangs took the opportunity to attack their rivals and burn down their houses. It took days for the Australian forces to bring the city under control.
If Alkatiri had hoped to solidify support within the armed forces by cracking down on the protesters, his strategy has backfired. Last week, his defense and interior ministers were forced to resign. Ramos-Horta was sworn in Saturday as defense minister while keeping his post as foreign minister.
With nearly half the army dismissed, the other half battling police and nearly all of them abandoning the city to armed thugs, critics wonder how the prime minister can keep his job. Some predict he will be forced from office after security has been restored, and that Ramos-Horta will take his place.
Ramos-Horta noted that he was the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to become a defense minister. Even before taking the oath of office, he began questioning whether East Timor needed an army.
"I will be there not so much to lead the army, but to lead the process of healing," he said. "We will decide in the next few months the fate of the army."
On Saturday afternoon, Jose Lopez, an instructor at the police academy, visited the site where the 10 police officers were killed; one was a friend and fellow instructor. Small shrines of stones, flowers and candles had been placed in the street where each of the victims fell.
"This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life," he said. "If the Australian forces had not arrived, we would all be dead."
For Lopez, the answer for East Timor is clear: "Only the U.N. can fix the problem."
AFP, June 5, 2006
Army chief eyes Timor tactics shift
From correspondents in Dili
AUSTRALIAN troops needed new tactics to stop gang fighting in the East Timor capital Dili, Brigadier Mick Slater said today.
But he ruled out adopting a "kick ass" policy against the mobs responsible.
Brigadier Slater said the violence in Dili was not easing and his 2250 soldiers in East Timor needed to take more of a policing role, rather than acting in a purely military capacity.
"What we need are police who know how to do policing activity to get these people off the streets and lock them up until we get them before a judge and let the judge take care of them," Brigadier Slater said.
"We're not about kickin' ass, it's about getting criminals off the streets and police do that better than soldiers."
As gangs of youths again roamed areas of Dili burning and looting, Brigadier Slater denied the situation was out of control.
"What you're seeing is a steady rate of activity," he said. "If we look at the number of lootings and burnings and gang fights, the numbers are not going up.
"I think we've reached a bit of a plateau at the moment and we maybe need to start doing things a little differently, we need to integrate police into what we're doing."
Brigadier Slater also played down the fact that newly deployed Portuguese paramilitaries would not come under his command, unlike Australian, Malaysian and New Zealand troops already patrolling the streets.
He said the Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR), who have a no-nonsense reputation from previous deployments in Dili, were in the capital to act as a police force and would co-ordinate closely with his military command.
"The last thing that we want at the moment and the last thing the Portuguese want is a clash or accident between police and military," he said.
"We need the Portuguese capability, it's very, very different to what we have at the moment."
Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer last week called for the United Nations to establish a multi-national police force in East Timor.
Brigadier Slater said international peacekeepers also wanted to co-operate with the East Timor police (PNTL), but it could take some time as the mix of officers was an example of the division between people from eastern and western provinces that set off the latest violence.
"If that means a couple of PNTL uniforms with coalition military forces to help us bolster our presence in the streets and integrate better the local population then it's something we'd definitely consider," he said.
"But because of the tensions between east and west, who don't know which police are from which community, it's not something we can do lightly."
------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service