Subject: SCMP: East Timor's shaky foundations need long-term support

Also AGE: The tragedy that is Timor

South China Morning Post Saturday, June 10, 2006

East Timor's shaky foundations need long-term support

Experts point the finger at the UN and Australia for the impoverished nation's slide into chaos, writes Annemarie Evans

Australian armoured vehicles patrol the streets of East Timor's capital, Dili, amid the burned-out shells of houses and food warehouses looted by marauding gangs, who for weeks have laid waste to neighbourhoods and forced tens of thousands of terrified civilians into refugee camps. What was lauded as the United Nations success story in nation-building has become a lawless territory.

But what has caused East Timor to disintegrate and what hope is there for this tiny country's future?

"I think a big mistake made by the Australians and the UN was not recognising how far East Timor had to go," said nation-building expert Seth Jones, of the Rand Corporation, a US think-tank.

When the interim administration, the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor, left in 2002 after elections were held, it was replaced by the UN Mission of Support in East Timor. The UN and Australian presence was gradually wound down.

East Timor's Foreign Minister and recently appointed Defence Minister Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday that UN involvement with East Timor should last for at least a decade from 2002, and that if the international community believed in nation-building then there could be no cost-cutting.

But so far, the UN has only committed for a further two years during which the organisation will provide an international police force. UN envoy to East Timor Ian Martin spoke to both East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao and embattled Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri in Dili last week before flying to New York to brief the UN.

Mr Jones agreed with Mr Ramos Horta on the need for a decade-long commitment. "East Timor needs the same time-frame as Bosnia and Kosovo, where an international presence has been for at least the past 10 years," he said. "What East Timor needs most is international assistance provided over a long time. These steps include training the police, providing a judicial system, basic health, basic law, and reconstruction."

Mr Jones and John M. Miller, the national co-ordinator of the Washington-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, agreed that police training by the UN and Australia was inadequate, partly leading to the current unrest.

Dili-based human rights lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares also said nation-building efforts were insufficient. "I think the UN pulled out too early," he said. "It failed to establish a strong, democratic foundation, especially in dealing with the defence force and police."

After the referendum in 1999, when East Timor's population voted to break away from Indonesia, many of the police officers had been working towards Indonesian integration. They soon returned to Indonesia or simply melted away, leaving a security vacuum.

East Timor's problems partly stemmed from the senior leaders of the armed forces being chosen from the east of the country, while lower ranks came from the west, sparking claims of discrimination.

But to class the current unrest as an east-west divide was an over-simplification, according to Mr Miller and Manuel Jaime Ximenes, a Sydney-based East Timorese and former member of the National Council of East Timorese Resistance.

"There is more than just a problem with discrimination," said Mr Ximenes. "As a people we're based on traditional values of kinships. Previously we had different areas with different rulers."

But this broke down under the Indonesian occupation. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were displaced, with many moving to other people's houses and other people's land. Many of these land-rights issues still needed to be resolved, said Mr Ximenes.

Mr Miller said that much of what had been going on in recent days was a result of poverty. "It's clear to us that the later phases of violence have been fuelled by poverty; gangs of unemployed young men with nothing else to do." He said this was partly due to the dysfunctional justice system. "This fuels a lot of tit-for-tat violence," he said. "The issue of justice is extremely important."

Mr Ximenes and Mr Soares also pointed the finger at the administration. "There's been a failure in the past four years by this government to communicate with the people," said Mr Soares.

Mr Ximenes said the personal differences between the three main leaders - Mr Gusmao, Mr Ramos Horta and Mr Alkitiri - were also a factor. Although the going had got tough, it was not possible to oust Mr Alkitiri, said Mr Ximenes. Mr Alkitiri is seen as unpopular next to the charismatic Mr Gusmao, but Mr Alkitiri heads Fretilin, and there's a danger of alienating the party, sparking more unrest.

Mr Jones put East Timor on a footing with Afghanistan. While East Timor had no insurgency problems, it was on the same level with its justice system, health, education and other indicators.

East Timor's oil and gas reserves will help the country in the long term. Higher oil prices have helped, but other projects will take years to show profit. So, to quell the simmering tensions and violence, East Timor still must look to its neighbours. "As with most of these operations, the most important countries are the donor states in the geographical area near these states," said Mr Jones. "So, in the case of East Timor, that would be Australia and possibly New Zealand."

Australia is overstretched with Iraq, Solomon Islands and other operations. But Australia, with US backing, is keen to have influence as China eyes East Timor's energy supplies for its booming economy.

If East Timor is left to its own devices, then with the current unrest, the future doesn't look rosy. However, both Mr Miller and Mr Jones are optimistic, provided an international taskforce can guide East Timor through a few more years.


The Age

The tragedy that is Timor

June 11, 2006

It is too easy to blame the East Timorese for their sorry plight, writes Tom Hyland.

Listen carefully: that scratching you hear is the scribbling of commentators, furiously re-writing history. And if you look closely, you might glimpse a hint of schadenfreude among those who argued all along that East Timor could never be free and are now saying: we told you so.

While Dili burns, it's payback time for those nursing ancient grievances - not in Dili's dusty streets, but in the leafy avenues of the Australian media and think-tank commentariat.

It's chaos in Dili. No one's in charge and no one knows what's really going on. The Government is divided. So is the army. It's east versus west, we're told, a re-emergence of ancient tribal, clan and ethnic enmities long suppressed by the firm grip of foreign occupation.

But while there's confusion in Dili, there's certainty among some commentators, some of whom had dismissed East Timor's aspirations for independence. The implication is that these fractious Timorese tribes are innately incapable of governing themselves.

Consider what retired admiral Chris Barrie, former Australian Defence Force chief and now visiting fellow at the Australian National University, told The Age's Michelle Grattan last week: "Maybe we were too quick to blame the whole (pre-independence) problem on the militia and Indonesia, rather than the East Timorese people themselves and their own unresolved societal tensions."

This is truth overboard, from a man who should have more than a nodding acquaintance with the facts of pre-independence East Timor. Whatever divisions have re-emerged, the East Timorese displayed unity and restraint in the face of murderous provocation during the 1999 vote for independence.

Elsewhere in the commentary, there's wistful wishful thinking. Former diplomat Allan Gyngell told Grattan that East Timor would have been better off "if it was well governed as part of a democratic Indonesia". Maybe, but we'll never know. Instead, what the Timorese knew was 24 years of non-democratic Indonesia, an experience that so scarred them that, when they were given a vote on remaining part of Indonesia, 78.5 per cent rejected it.

From The Australian's Paul Kelly we learn that ministries in Jakarta are "rocking with laughter", now that these difficult East Timorese have ceased to be Indonesia's "problem" and have become Australia's "problem".

It's time, says Kelly, to consider "harsh truths" about a story that is "more complex than the fairytale spun for Australians so long". In the process of enunciating those purported truths, Kelly rewrites history, suggesting East Timor brought the 1975 Indonesian invasion on itself.

He says Fretilin's November 1975 declaration of independence made the invasion inevitable. The harsh truth is that the inevitability of that invasion prompted the declaration of independence, not the other way round. From as early as July 1974, Indonesia had plans to win control of the then-Portuguese colony and Indonesian troops launched their initial invasion in October 1975, a month before the declaration of independence.

Gerard Henderson has also entered the fray, determined to force Australians to confront East Timor's history of internal division and what he asserts is a long record of clan-based violence.

Wielding his media machete, his column in The Sydney Morning Herald, he slashed the "fashionable view" that all the violence during 1999 was caused by Indonesia.

Henderson does concede "some" of the militias who carried out the violence were backed by "some members of the Indonesian defence force". He fails to mention that "some members" included the then-commander of that force, General Wiranto, one of 440 people charged by the UN's Special Crimes Unit with crimes in 1999. Of the 440, 339 live in Indonesia, which refuses to extradite them.

Nor does Henderson mention the findings of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), which investigated and documented abuses in East Timor from 1974 until '99 - including crimes committed by Timorese themselves.

The commission found Indonesian security forces and their militia auxiliaries carried out 14,922 (95.2 per cent) of all violations reported to have been committed in 1999. It found the Indonesian military created, funded, armed and trained the militias, participated in operations with them, and failed to prevent their murderous rampages.

Henderson went on to proclaim "the unfashionable fact" that East Timor was not ready for immediate independence, as if this was a revelation ignored by "those who want to blame anyone but the East Timorese for that society's evident problems".

Yet this lack of preparation was publicly acknowledged by the Timorese leadership.

In 1998, resistance leader Xanana Gusmao urged Jakarta to give his country five to 10 years transition before any referendum. In January 1999, when he announced just such a referendum, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie gave them eight months.

It is part of the Timorese tragedy that they've had to play the cards they were dealt. In 1975, they were abandoned by Portugal and faced the inevitability of invasion, hence the declaration of independence. In 1999, Habibie offered them one chance of winning their freedom, take it or leave it.

In the process they saw their country destroyed by a humiliated Indonesian army that left nothing but ruins behind. A departing soldier's farewell message, scrawled in graffiti, declared: "A free East Timor will eat stones."

The causes of the current disaster in Dili are complex, multiple and messy. East Timor's best leaders, Gusmao and Ramos Horta, appear mesmerised and impotent, caught in currents of intrigue they can't identify or control. But it's too easy to simply attribute the disaster, as some of the commentary implies, to the squabbling of troublesome tribes.

Building a nation from ruins is not easy. The 20th century is littered with examples of post-colonial chaos in nations that won independence through armed struggle. Many leaders who have led guerilla movements, or endured the frustrations and disappointments of exile politics, are unable to make the transition to running open democratic governments with all the compromises that involves.

In East Timor's case, this is a society where all political aspirations and practice were suppressed, first by the Portuguese and then the Indonesians, who further sought to erase the people's national identity. Look closely and you see a society suffering collective post-traumatic stress. A study published in The Lancet in 2000, based on a survey of 1033 East Timorese households, found 97 per cent had experienced at least one traumatic event during Indonesia's occupation. Three-quarters had experienced combat and more than half had come close to death. Twelve per cent had lost children to political violence; 39 per cent had been tortured; 22 per cent had witnessed the murder of relatives or friends. One third were classified as having post-traumatic stress. Little wonder that 20 per cent believed they would never recover.

The events in Dili show a society struggling to emerge from centuries of neglect under Portugal and 24 years of enforced fear and suspicion under Indonesia. The tactics of plotting, secrecy and scheming that have now come to a head have their roots in a regime where secrecy meant survival. Indonesia sought to defeat the clandestine independence movement through a pervasive system of spies and informers, where rumours and misinformation were weapons of war, where no one was trusted. This left a legacy of distrust. "The pervasiveness of the system," according to the CAVR report, "sowed deep suspicion among the East Timorese population, and social bonds and cohesiveness were casualties of this undercover element of the conflict."

Maybe the gangs looting Dili, and the politicians now accused of plotting the deaths of their rivals, learnt another lesson from the Indonesian experience. Jakarta's failure, with the connivance of the international community, to punish those who carried out the destruction of 1999 shows the triumph of a culture of impunity, where it's possible to get away with murder and where justice is dispensable.

To state that East Timor's leaders inherited a devastated ruin on which to build a nation, and to recognise that theirs is a society deeply traumatised by a brutal occupation, is not to excuse their massive failures. Rather, it's an attempt to understand the background to those failures.

Nor does any of this deny the deep divisions between those leaders, who have to accept ultimate responsibility for the mess that has erupted in Dili. Their failures have been multiple - especially the failure to act on the security crisis stemming from disaffection within the army and between the army and the police - and possibly criminal, if it emerges politicians are behind the violence, looting and arson.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was right when he declared last week: "Let us not walk away from the fact that the East Timorese themselves are responsible for what has happened in East Timor. No one else is." He's also right - up to a point - when he argues neither Australia nor the United Nations are to blame. But you can't have it both ways, in claiming credit when things go right in East Timor - as Canberra and the UN have in the past - and then denying any responsibility when things go wrong.

In March this year, referring to Australia's casualty-free role in ensuring East Timor's independence in 1999, Prime Minister John Howard said: "It all turned out fantastically, didn't it?"

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