Subject: James Dunn: Timor Leste, July 2006Ė A Land of Hope and Challenges

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Timor Leste, July 2006 ≠ A Land of Hope and Challenges

James Dunn

My role in East Timorís revival has, for now, come to an end. I left Dili in a mood of cautious optimism. The new government is in place, and its leader has been moving energetically to move this nation forward from a setback that, at one point, threatened to tear it apart. The situation is already calmer; the street traffic has gone back to its former bustle, and there have been few reports of violent incidents. However there is treacherous ground around, for the main issues behind this crisis have yet to be resolved. Indeed the leading actors have yet to concede and return to their corners.

The defence force issue remains unsettled, with two of the rebel majors still in the mountains, although one of them, Major Alfredo Reinado, has just been arrested by the Australian forces, evidently for still being in possession of weapons. These rebels operated behind the screen of their pledges of loyalty to President Xanana, but their response to the new government has been ambiguous. They appear placated by Prime Minister Hortaís appointment, but have attacked some of the other ministers. My preference was for rebel, or disobedient officers, to be persuaded or ordered to return to the army barracks, and there to be placed under some kind of restraint until the legal issues have been cleared up. In their mountain locations they seem to have behaved like warlords. Certainly, some form of discipline needs to be considered. These officers did not just ignore orders; they are said to be responsible for at least two deaths. There are also dark suggestions that their actions were anything but spontaneous. East Timorís democracy cannot afford for such rebellious actions to be treated lightly. As for the return of weapons, some 1,000 have now been handed in, many of them by the police, but hundreds are probably still held in the mountains.

The new government is keen for the 150,000 refugees, the internally displaced persons, to return to their homes, and of course to their jobs, for their retreat has left government departments weakened at a time when the new government is trying to get under way the reforms necessary to end the violence and stabilize the country. Despite the promise of change for the better, fear still pervades the refugee camps. I was made well aware of just before leaving, when I agreed to speak to one of the largest camps, one near the airport which is run by IOM. It was apparent that there prevailed a universal desire for the conflict and violence to end. The inmates want to return home, but are still afraid of those hidden forces out there in the street, vicious gangs of youths that strike in the night. These attacks may now be rare but they still occur, and the big challenge to the Horta Government, the UN, the peacekeepers and police is not just to restore peace to the city streets but to ensure that it is a reality and that it endures. The refugees need a secure environment ≠ repaired housing, security of the streets, food security. As some 670 houses were destroyed, replacing them will take time.

One remaining problem that could still incite conflict is the political scene. The new government has been welcomed but the beginning of the legal case against Mari Alkatiri and unrest in Fretilin, which controls 55 of the 88 seats in the National Assembly, is a cause of unrest. While Prime Minister Horta enjoys the support of most of the Fretilin party, many believe that Alkatiri was the victim of a coup, involving the presidency, certain political leaders, as well as sections of the military. Hopefully the truth of the matter will emerge from the special UN commissionís findings, which should come out in about four months. The Four Corners contribution was, Iím afraid, a rather lop-sided and superficial account.

What the Horta Government must do to placate the concerns that have both divided the East Timorese and caused a massive crisis of confidence and trust, is to act quickly in relation to both security and the economy, and fulfill its promises. Already the budget of some $US315 million has been modified to meet the challenge. It is quite a challenge for the new prime minister, who has moved quickly and energetically to meet it. With less than nine months before the next elections the Horta government needs both domestic and international support in order to achieve its goals.

What I did discover at my meetings with the refugees was a strong desire for an end to the east-west differences behind the violence. I suggested a nation-wide campaign against violence and discrimination, and was delighted when a group of young met and offered to open a dialogue towards unity and against violence. It would be great if this move took off, for in reality the east-west division has little to do with East Timorís ethnic make-up. It is a largely a legacy of the Indonesian militaryís divisive tactics, with an overlay of regional discontent heightened by sharp differences in economic differences between these regions. These ghosts from the past must be moved on.

I found that many Timorese are still dismayed at the failure of their government and the UN system to address their past ordeal at the hands of the Indonesian military. In the circumstances, it is important that the proposal to establish an international tribunal to investigate past atrocities ≠ which is still before the UN Security Council ≠ should remain on the international agenda. It should not be ignored in order to appease pressures from Indonesiaís military, or in deference to the countryís transition towards democracy. Today many Timorese are affected not just by their terrible experiences at the hands of those TNI occupiers, but by the refusal of their leaders and the international community to take the traumatic impact of those ordeals seriously. It would greatly help the healing process if that issue were to be given the attention it deserves by the international community. Such an outcome would be welcomed by many Indonesians, who themselves have suffered at the hands of the TNI under Suharto, and who remain convinced that a fully functioning democratic system will remain elusive, until the powerful TNI has been comprehensively reformed. It is less a matter of prosecutorial processes, than of finding a way to bring out into the open just how cruelly the people of East Timor suffered from the brutal culture of Suhartoís military forces. With a new regime in power in Jakarta, such an exposure would enhance, rather than risk, Timor Lesteís long term security.

James Dunn


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