Subject: Letters to Editor: Assessing the strife in East Timor

Boston Globe

Assessing the strife in East Timor

June 12, 2006

THE VIOLENCE roiling East Timor is tragic, and the causes are surely many and complex 
boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/2006/06/06/east_timor_unfinished/

 East Timor unfinished," editorial, June 6). Yet among them are not merely errors of omission by the United Nations and Australia, as you seem to suggest. There have also been errors of commission.

While you correctly refer to ``Indonesia's brutal occupation," suggesting that history is important to understanding East Timor's current crsis, it is important to recall that this occupation was aided by US and Australian military and political support through the worst of the atrocities. This legacy of violent oppression indicates that international assistance to East Timor is not a gift but the repayment of a longstanding and onerous debt.

MAX AJL Brooklyn, N.Y.

YOUR EDITORIAL'S assertion that Australia deserves much of the blame for the recent eruption of violence in East Timor is completely unfounded. The withdrawal of peacekeepers after the 1999 independence vote is not the cause of the problems -- the Australian presence was reduced after a successful transfer of power. Nor does the violence stem from alleged Australian indifference or ingratitude given the two countries' trade disputes .

Australia has a strong commitment to nation building and foreign aid, not only in East Timor, but throughout the region, with other peacekeepers in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The international community must address the underlying causes of East Timor's recent strife -- ethnic divisions, weak political leadership, and debilitating poverty -- instead of simply pointing the finger of blame.

CHRISTOPHER S. MULLIGAN Sydney

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Baltimore Sun

Juen 14, 2006

Other nations owe a debt to East Timor

Michael J. Boyle writes that before the current crisis, East Timor was "viewed as a U.N. success story" because it backed a 1999 intervention to save the "impoverished island from the grips of the Indonesian army" ("Finish job in East Timor," Opinion, Comentary, June 6). He then rightly lists many of the factors that have contributed to the present violence. Yet he omits critical information.

The Indonesian army was not the only guilty party in the decades-long occupation. The United States and Australia began to provide political and materiel support as Indonesian troops invaded in 1975 and continued to do so until their final paroxysm of destructiveness in 1999.

Similarly, the problem is not merely that the "United Nations failed to get East Timor's fragile economy on its feet." Australia's refusal to remit billions of dollars in petroleum revenues that rightfully belong to East Timor under customary international law has surely aggravated Timorese poverty.

Taken together, these facts suggest that the international community's failure has been one of default on tremendous debts it owes to the people of East Timor, in repayment for the suffering it has enabled, in the past and the present.

Such facts are important to keep in mind as we seek to understand today's bloodshed.

Max Ajl New York

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International Herald Tribune

East Timor's reconstruction

June 9, 2006

The editorial ''East Timor unfinished'' (June 7) makes the important point that nation building is rarely accomplished quickly, easily or cheaply.

I worked on an assignment from Unicef to help develop a national youth policy in East Timor earlier this year. The results of the national survey we conducted showed that security was a major concern.

The current problems stem more from the failure of the government and international agencies like the World Bank to invest more resources in poverty reduction work to build up basic levels of trust in the community. As a recent UN report highlighted, only one-third of the government budget is spent on the rural sector where 80 percent of the population lives.

Richard Curtain, Paris

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International Herald Tribune

June 12, 2006

Losing East Timor

Who lost East Timor? Jeff Kingston, in "Nation rebuilding" (June 10-11) says "The United Nations bears responsibility for leaving before it finished the job." That's not correct, and we need to make sure the record is set straight before this becomes part of the received wisdom.

Decisions on a UN operation of this kind are the responsibility not of the whole United Nations but of the Security Council or, if you prefer, the five permanent members, who each have a veto.

The Security Council took the decision to terminate the UN military presence in East Timor, against the wishes and in spite of the pleas of Secretary General Kofi Annan that a small military force be left in place. Had he been listened to, the tragedy now taking place could have been avoided.

Frank Peel, Geneva


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