Subject: IrishTimes; Old problems come back to haunt a new state

The Irish Times May 25, 2002

Old problems come back to haunt a new state

East Timor is barely a week old as an independent state but already members of the new order are quarrelling, David Shanks reports from Dili. There is resentment among many that the "toy cabinet", as one critic has called it, is dominated by people who were not in East Timor during the 24-year struggle against the Indonesian occupation

Post-independence begrudgery has begun in East Timor. It centres not on the charismatic non-party President Xanana Gusmao - but on the Chief Minister, Mari Alkatiri, and his choice of "old guard" ministers.

Unlike the inclusive "cabinet of reconciliation" chosen under the UN's now defunct administration, the one named last Monday is dominated by Fretilin, the party in power when Indonesia invaded in 1975. This is a problem for parties looking for transparency. A long-time expert on Timor says he fears the political system will be dominated by patronage.

The entire political landscape changed this week, with officials and taxi-drivers unable to say where government ministers were now located.

Alkatiri has been accused of "fascist" tendencies towards free speech, of signing a treaty which allows Australia "to steal our oil and gas" and for his hard line on reconciliation of former anti-independence militias with their communities. Unlike Xanana, he favours jailing them first and perhaps reconciling later.

Although these criticisms come from opposition parties in the National Assembly, inaugurated only last Monday, the thorns the government seems most sensitive about are those from international solidarity movements, mainly in Australia.

They kept faith with the Timorese struggle throughout Indonesia's cruel 24-year occupation. The agony ended in September 1999 after an army-orchestrated militia rampage and international intervention.

Meanwhile, youths on motorbikes continue to do their post-independence wheelies around the tropical capital, flying the new red, yellow and black flag. The new police force smiles indulgently on careless driving.

Analysis of last Sunday's independence night bash goes on away from the streets in party offices. Many felt it was anti-climactic when it came to the handover at midnight.

A voice at the office of East Timor's second party in the assembly was a chilling reminder of the enormous problems ahead. "The Viva, Viva period is over now."

Fernando de Araujo (39), head of the Democratic Party (PD), offered me a lift back to town in his state car. He was returning the air-conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser because he resigned last Monday after being Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for just a few minutes.

When he discovered that the cabinet was dominated by the Fretilin party of the 1970s, he quit. The PD has seven deputies to Fretilin's 55 in the 88-member assembly. He had resigned his seat to be minister, according to party rules. So now he has neither job.

Araujo says the "toy cabinet" he left is dominated by Alkatiri and by people who were not here during the 24-year struggle. "I don't believe in Alkatiri," he says. In post-independence Timor, the volume is being turned up on the "where were you in 1916?" type question.

Most of the ministers, including Alkatiri, were outside - mostly in Mozambique. "Many Timorese want to see people who were with them in the struggle," he says. Araujo is "very worried" by Alkatiri's speech at the parliament's inauguration.

Alkatiri said the government would "take some steps that would not be very popular" and Araujo interprets this to mean Alkatiri will "act like a dictator" using the new Timor army to stop demonstrations and to control the TV station set up by the UN.

However, he exempts from criticism the man who would have been his boss, Jose Ramos-Horta. Like Xanana, the new Foreign Minister resigned from Fretilin before taking office. "He did not have any influence on the choice of cabinet."

But implicitly defaming the work Alkatiri did abroad for the cause, he adds: "More important, Ramos-Horta worked."

But Ramos-Horta does not escape criticism elsewhere. He is accused by the solidarity people, who include professors, former diplomats and professionals, of going too far towards "appeasement" in his policy of reconciliation with Indonesia.

He was accused this week of backtracking on his earlier opposition to resumption by Washington of military supplies to Indonesia.

US Congressional sanctions against Indonesia, which has yet to try its generals on charges of organising the militias that killed over 1,000 people in September 1999, includes a human rights dimension, Ramos-Horta was told. He pleaded militias are no longer a threat and that Indonesia had fulfilled its promises to curtail them.

Disarmingly, he told the activists: "I may make mistakes sometimes and you must remind me." At the same meeting Alkatiri was grilled about the controversial Timor Sea Agreement with Canberra, which he negotiated. Activists argue that the treaty robs Timor of what it owns under the UN's Law of the Sea, which formula Australia has rejected. The counter-argument is that Timor desperately needs the money.

Alkatiri told the foreigners that if they wanted to question it: "You can demonstrate in Sydney with 100,000 people. Just don't do it here." Araujo says Alkatiri is starting to say that if there are demonstrations in Timor, the foreigners will be to blame. "It is very, very fascist - the mentality of Suharto," Indonesia's dictator who fell in 1998.

The foreign activists argue that the treaty, which was signed with apparent unseemly haste last Monday, gives Timor 20 per cent of what is rightfully its own. "Australia knew Timor was negotiating on its knees," says Tom Hyland, the Irish Timor activist.

Alkatiri has been quoted as saying: "What would the international donors think if I didn't sign it?"

Meanwhile, East Timor feels like an Australian colony. The Minister for Infrastructure laughed at this criticism, but admitted "the problem of the country is that it needs participation, local and international". But after only two days in office, Mr Ovidio Amaral (Fretilin) told me some of his troubles.

Only about 10 per cent of the capital's 200,000 people have water and sanitation and most of those who have electricity do not pay their bills because they say the meters are inaccurate.

"The biggest problem will be changing the mentality of people - to socialise them to the idea that rights and obligations go together, and for the government too," he says.

The Socialist (PST) party leader, Avelino da Silva, is looking for state control of labour and trade. His party has only one seat. He believes in the free market but says Timor has "a free, free market".

"The foreigners want access to our market but won't give us access to theirs. Is this what the World Bank meant?" He shares the concerns over the treaty and believes "parliament will be a puppet".

Apart from Timor's other problems - including post-war trauma, widespread domestic violence, a rump of the old guerrilla army that insists on raising its flag and marching about, and having two official and two "working languages" - a glaring one is lack of skills. (A minister this week asked my advice on how to organise his notes.)

In his meeting with David Andrews this week, Xanana took up the theme of the lack of expertise in the public service. Pointing animatedly to his own head, he said: "Our minds are confused." And indicating his private staff, he said he had "three advisors" who "are very good to me but they are volunteers".

The former Irish foreign minister told him that if ever needed a hand to give Bertie Ahern a ring.


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