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Statement by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) on the Current Violence in Timor-Leste

For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller (718) 596-7668; (917) 690-4391 (cell)

May 27, 2006 - We have watched the unfolding situation in Timor-Leste this past week with deep concern. We do not believe that events had to escalate to this point. Like others, we do not have complete information about the current situation and its causes. Below are our initial reflections:

The intervention by foreign military and police forces is a sad event for Timor-Leste, whose hard-won political independence has had to be laid aside ­ we hope for only a short time ­ because leaders and state institutions have been unable to manage certain violent elements of the population and security forces.

Now that foreign forces are being deployed -- at the request of Timor-Leste's government, with the stated support of rebel leaders, and the welcome by most of a terrified population -- we hope that they serve their intended purpose in quelling the violence and allowing negotiations and a peaceful resolution, as well as the identification and arrest of those who have committed crimes.

Outside intervention is a temporary solution at best. Timor-Leste must find ways, with respectful support from the international community, to deal with problems in a manner that will not require troops.

Statements by Australian government leaders that providing security assistance entitles them to influence over Timor-Leste’s government are undemocratic, paternalistic, and unhelpful. Who governs Timor-Leste is a decision to be made by its people within its constitution.

Key countries -- including those now sending troops and police -- must examine their roles in relation to the new nation, including the training provided to Timor-Leste’s security forces. Australia bears special responsibility for Timor’s underdevelopment by refusing to return revenues, totaling billions of dollars, from the disputed petroleum fields in the Timor Sea, including Laminaria-Corallina, and by bullying Timor-Leste into forsaking revenues that should rightfully belong to it under current international law and practice. As in 1999, we must not forget that the Australian government’s actions have contributed to the situations their peacekeepers have now been sent to correct. Australia should not view its current assistance to Timor-Leste as a favor, to be repaid, but instead as a partial repayment for the debt Australia owes the Timorese people for its help during WW II and for Australia's deep complicity in Indonesia's invasion and occupation.

Independent Timor-Leste had a violent birth. The legacy of Indonesian occupation left the people of the new nation deeply traumatized and impoverished, without governmental institutions and experience. Those who orchestrated, implemented and aided the illegal occupation have never been held accountable.

We wonder if international and Timorese failures to ensure justice have led some in Timor-Leste to believe that their own use of violence would be met with similar impunity. As described in the recent report of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), several countries - among them U.S., U.K., and Australia - bear a special responsibility to ensure justice and accountability due to their action and inaction from 1975 on. Reparations, as called for by the CAVR, would help alleviate the poverty and joblessness that have fueled some of the unrest.

It must not be forgotten that despite its many problems, the transition from occupation to UN administration to independence has been relatively peaceful, especially when compared to the experiences of many other post-colonial countries. We hope that the recent violence -- which appears to have complex causes -- proves to be an exception.

We urge the key political, security force and other actors in the current crisis to evaluate their own actions and recommit themselves to the spirit of national unity and public service, which so ably provided the foundation for the independence movement. Timor-Leste needs to examine whether or not it wants a military and, if so, what is its purpose. In addition to addressing the past, the CAVR report provides useful recommendations for implementing rule of law and improving justice and accountability in independent Timor-Leste.

We urge the international community and the UN, especially the Security Council, to work with Timor-Leste to complete the nation-building and development tasks to which they have already committed. If Timor-Leste is to become the success story it has already been portrayed as, further international support is necessary. However, this support must be given in an honest spirit that supports real self-determination and empowers the Timorese people to take full charge of their own destiny.

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ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 and for restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia until there is genuine reform of its security forces.

see also ETAN Statement on Recent Events in Timor-Leste; Country Fragile, International Assistance, Justice Still Needed

Additional news and background

Hear ETAN's Charles Scheiner, recently returned from East Timor, on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show; Democracy Now!; WBEZ's Worldview, WNUR's This Is Hell

Support ETAN

"I’ve long admired ETAN’s work. For well over a decade, ETAN has conducted some of the most effective  grassroots campaigns I know. With limited resources, they helped free a nation and fundamentally changed policy toward one of the U.S.’s closest and most repressive allies, Indonesia."  —Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!


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