Subject: Alkatiri Attacks Australian Interference In Timor

Alkatiri Attacks Australian Interference In Timor

AIM (Moçambique) - Friday 24/11/2006

Maputo, 24 Nov (AIM) - The former prime minister of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, on a private visit to Mozambique, has accused the Australian government of interference in Timorese internal affairs.

Despite the fact that he leads the Timorese liberation movement Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), which remains the country's largest and most popular political party, Alkatiri was forced to resign earlier this year in what has been described as "a constitutional coup d'etat".

The immediate cause of the violence that wracked East Timor in late May was a mutiny by Timorese troops who had been sacked from the armed forces and were led by a man who had played no role in the struggle against Indonesian occupation, but spent the years of war in comfortable exile in Australia.

The violence was used as an excuse to destabilise the Timorese government and remove Alkatiri, bitterly disliked in the Australian establishment because of his tough (and successful) negotiating stance over the oil reserves under the Timor Sea.

Alkatiri lived in exile in Maputo for many years, and has returned to see old friends. In an interview published in Friday's issue of the independent weekly "Savana", Alkatiri stressed his belief that there had been an Australian hand in forcing his resignation.

Over the previous year and a half, he noted, the Australian media "launched a deliberate campaign to denigrate the image of the Timorese government and of Fretilin in general, and my image in particular".

At the height of the May/June crisis, Australia's right-wing prime minister John Howard, Alkatiri added, "was the only political leader who declared that he wanted me to resign, in a clear act of interference in the internal affairs of Timor".

Clearly the oil negotiations were a weighty factor behind this. "The negotiations were tough", said Alkatiri, "and I strongly defended Timorese interests. In one block, we got rights to 90 per cent, when initially we had only been allocated 50 per cent, and in another we got 50 per cent instead of the initial offer of 18 per cent".

Asked about the role of the Catholic Church, the religion followed by most Timorese, Alkatiri replied "I don't much like to talk about the church as an institution, but it's a fact that part of the hierarchy was militantly opposed to the government".

"I have no doubts in stating that the Catholic Church played the role of an opposition, organising demonstrations for two or three weeks", he added.

A complicating factor is that Alkatiri himself is not a christian, but comes from a moslem family. "I admit that the fact that I'm a moslem, in an overwhelmingly catholic country, may be difficult for some catholic sectors to accept", he said.

As for the trumped-up charges that Alkatiri had distributed guns to civilians, the UN's commission of inquiry had found no proof, but nonetheless recommended continued investigation.

Alkatiri was not surprised, and regarded this as a way to save the face of those Timorese politicians, notably President Xanana Gusmao, who had forced his resignation. "The way the UN report was presented shows clearly they don't want to affectthose in power", he said. For if the UN had clearly stated there was no basis for the accusations against him, "then what would the position of the President have looked like, since he asked for my resignation precisely because of those charges ?"

Alkatiri dismissed rumours that he had come to Mozambique to escape Timorese justice. He had told the Attorney-General in advance of his travel plans, and he had given him his contact numbers.

Furthermore, Alkatiri remains in regular contact with the man who replaced him as Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta. "In Timor, we meet once a week", he said. "When I'm abroad, we speak regularly on the phone".

Fretilin had given Ramos-Horta's government its backing. Ramos-Horta had inherited the Alkatiri government's ambitious plans, but Alkatiri thought he had been "unable to define clearly the difficulties and tackle them frontally".

In particular, Ramos-Horta had not re-established law and order, and the authority of the state, or solved the problems of those displaced in the May-June fighting. "That should have been a priority, and it wasn't", said Alkatiri.

He was sharply critical of Gusmao. Although he did not believe the President was initially involved in the plans to topple the Alkatiri government, he came on board later, and showed "the unjustifiable hatred he has for Fretilin".

Alkatiri admitted the key role that Gusmao played in the resistance to Indonesian occupation, following the death of Fretilin's first leader, Nicolau Lobato. Gusmao introduced a new style of leadership, very much centred on his own person - and in the dark years of the 1980s, Alkatiri admitted, this worked and the resistance survived. Gusmao was the de facto leader of Fretilin, even when he formally separated himself from the party.

But when independence came, the situation was radically changed. Fretilin reorganised, and Gusmao was outside of the party structures.

"President Xanana's great problem is that he has lost the leadership of Fretilin", said Alkatiri. "You can't try to lead a party if you are outside of it. Only those who are prepared to subordinate themselves to Fretilin structures can lead Fretilin. What the President wants is, at the least, irrational. That was where our quarrels began".

Alkatiri said he did not want to be Fretilin's candidate for prime minister at the next elections. Instead, he would prefer to work to build up the party.

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