Subject: Age/Damien Kingsbury: East Timor still has a choice not to become a failed state

also: The Australian/Sheridan: Reining in Reinado no easy task

The Age

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

East Timor still has a choice not to become a failed state

By Damien Kingsbury

The failure to respect the rule of law is ominous for the fledgling nation.

THE assault in East Timor by Australian troops on outlaw Major Alfredo Reinado and his gang in Same, and the worsening of violence and destruction in Dili, has highlighted that political conflict in East Timor is a long way from over.

There are numerous factors contributing to the continuing troubles, but underpinning them all is a failure of East Timor to function under rule of law.

This failure goes to the heart of East Timor's politics, and the failure of its leaders to move from traditional to civic methods of law and state organisation. As a result, incidents such as the attack on Reinado are understood not as the imposition of rule of law, but an attack against dissent.

It is clear that while there is indeed significant dissent in East Timor, from a range of groups, Reinado acted well outside any conceivable legal boundaries. Not only had he been responsible for the killing of five people last May, but after his arrest he escaped from prison.

If Reinado had a legitimate case in his defence, it should have been presented to the courts. His decision to take a more quixotic path, and the inevitable confrontation, clearly showed that he hoped that populist appeal would trump legal process. The consequent fallout has been serious, but it may mark a shift in how law is understood in East Timor, and this is critical to its future.

Under Portuguese colonial rule, civic law applied only to those few under its direct rule. Most East Timorese continued to live under traditional law. Traditional law implies a strong relationship between individuals, their village or clan, the land and their ancestors.

Under such law, while most disputes were resolved before they reached the point of violence, some were not. In such cases, a person acted, and then sought adjudication on the legitimacy of the action. This is in part reflected in the outlaw actions of Reinado, who has sought legitimacy after the act.

The Indonesian interregnum did nothing to further respect for the rule of law. From 1975 until 1999, Indonesia presided over mass deaths and institutionalised brutality. Indonesia's reluctance since then properly to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes, and East Timor's necessary acceptance of this failure, has further left a strong sense that civic law has no meaning.

This failure of civic law in East Timor has been further compounded by wider institutional failure. East Timor's police have been widely criticised for incompetence, corruption and brutality. Under pressure last year, the police force entirely collapsed.

Reinado was recently accused of raiding police stations and stealing weapons. Reinado claimed, believably, the weapons were freely given to him by police, and that some of those police joined him.

There is also public awareness of corruption at senior political levels, and a related sense of elite impunity. When the charge against former prime minister Mari Alkatiri of arming gangs was dropped because of "insufficient evidence", it led to rioting. Given the perception of judicial compromise and incompetence, this further illustrated to many the failure of civic law. In large part, judicial failure has strengthened Reinado's popular appeal.

Institutional failure can in part be blamed on the United Nations inadequately doing its job in East Timor. In part it can also be blamed on Indonesia's poor training and education of the few East Timorese it employed in institutional positions. But most importantly, East Timor's institutional failure is the responsibility of its own political leaders.

In a hierarchical society in which patronage and personal loyalty remain dominant, political leaders had a joint responsibility to lead their people towards full civic statehood. This meant explaining how traditional forms of justice translate into civic justice, and shifting respect for one system to the other. It also meant that political leaders also needed to respect the agreed rules of the civic game.

As traditional societies transform, political equality and civic law replace patronage and traditional law. In freeing societies to think and choose for themselves equally, political leaders have to abandon patronage and win back following through ideas, policies and commitment.

However, in the transition between patronage and political equality, there is a moment in which leaders are politically exposed, having let go of one system but not quite established in the other. Very few of East Timor's political leaders are prepared to face this vulnerability, especially if their competitors do not do the same. As a result, nobody moves, except through gangs, leading to social breakdown.

Reinado romanticises himself as a people's hero resisting an unjust government. But despite such appeals, he has more in common with the film Rambo, in which a claimed initial injustice legitimises subsequent gross excesses. Building a state requires rule of law, not "Rambo justice", and gang violence cannot substitute for free and fair electoral competition.

East Timor's political leaders together must make clear, in actions as well as words, that they are fully committed to the need for equal and consistent rule of law, and that they will abide by the rules of the political and legal game.

If they do this, East Timor may yet have a future. If they do not, East Timor will almost certainly become a failed state.

Damien Kingsbury is director of the master's in international and community development at Deakin University. He is co-editor, with Michael Leach, of East Timor: Beyond Independence, soon to be released by Monash University Press.


The Australian March 5, 2007


Reining in Reinado no easy task

By Greg Sheridan

The failure of the Australian Army to capture East Timorese rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado, was disappointing, but does not reflect poorly on the Army.

Rather it reflects on the extreme difficulty of East Timor as an operational environment.

With vastly larger numbers of troops, and with great local knowledge, the occupying Indonesian forces were often not able to locate or capture individual rebel leaders from the mid-1970s until independence in 1999.

In some ways, we have a tendency to expect that absolutely everything that the Australian Army does will be perfect. The Army has partly built this expectation itself by being so very good at what it does. The East Timor operation is no exception.

When the Army first went into East Timor, formed units of the East Timorese military and police were threatening civil war against each other. The Australian Army, partly because of its fearsome reputation, its formidable operational effectiveness, and the goodwill it still enjoys from many East Timorese civilians, was able to stand down that situation quickly and bloodlessly. It then had to cope with a more routine breakdown of law and order.

The criticism of the Army in this period was incredibly obtuse and failed to recognise just what a huge achievement the avoidance of civil war was, and how complex the ensuing situation became.

It is good that the Army was bolstered by the Australian Federal Police. However it is absolutely dead wrong to think that the various emergencies we have had to confront in the South Pacific are essentially policing requirements and that coopers would be better at it than diggers.

For Australia to be required to intervene in a South Pacific country it means that the situation has become very dangerous indeed, especially for the local civilian population. In that situation only the Army is equipped and trained to restore order.

Certainly only the Army can deal with the likes of Alfredo Reinado and any rebellious formed units of the East Timorese Army, or even any armed militia. Reinado does enjoy some popular support in the western part of East Timor.

Although he does not appear to be a major military threat, Reinado is capable of getting a lot of people killed. Handling him with the least amount of violence, apprehending him alive and without injury or death to others, will be an exceptionally complex task.

It is right that the SAS has been sent to East Timor. It shows us several things - that East Timor is a very long way from being out of the woods, for one. It also shows us that we are going to continue to need to deploy the Army overseas and a suitable number of them should have relevant language and other training to optimise the effectiveness of these operations.

We should salute the Australian Army for its courage and its effectiveness. No job like this in East Timor is easy. The Army's brilliant record so far may make it seem otherwise.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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