Subject: Two cheers for the changes in East Timor [and more]

Also The Australian Editorial: Timor Charts a Future; E Timor's new PM pledges to restore hope

The Australian Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Age (Melbourne)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Two cheers for the changes in East Timor

By Damien Kingsbury

In the wake of the resignation of East Timor's former prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, and the ascension of Jose Ramos Horta, there have been claims that East Timor has undergone a coup. Support for this claim depends on how one understands the positions of the former and new prime minister, and the events leading to this change.

There is no doubt that Alkatiri left office against his wishes, claiming there had been an attempt to oust him. Similarly, Ramos Horta is not from Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party and was fairly forthright about his interest in becoming prime minister.

However, regardless of whether Alkatiri orchestrated a hit squad against his political enemies, he did preside over the collapse of law and order and the near fragmentation of East Timor as a nation, which brought it to the brink of state failure. This alone would mean he pays the highest political price.

Conversely, the elevation of Ramos Horta to Prime Minister was aimed not at overthrowing Alkatiri, who had already resigned, but towards installing a unifying political figure. East Timor's people united against a common Indonesian enemy but, like most other post-colonial states, it still needs to build a national identity that coheres around forward-looking common goals.

As well as appealing to many within Fretilin and across party lines, Ramos Horta will bring the Government closer to the highly popular President, Xanana Gusmao. While the presidency remains largely ceremonial, Gusmao has huge legitimacy among ordinary East Timorese. Ramos Horta, too, is widely popular, and their alliance will strengthen and stabilise East Timor's political environment.

Apart from building unity, Ramos Horta's first task will be to restore East Timor's security forces. The police will be retrained and probably restructured with international assistance. The future of the army, however, is less clear.

Since its inception in 2002, East Timor's Defence Force (F-FDTL) has lacked purpose, been a budgetary drain and been prone to political intrigues. As John Martinkus noted on this page yesterday, the F-FDTL was approached to stage a coup against Alkatiri, which it rebuffed. The approaches to the F-FDTL were by two political non-party groups.

One pro-coup group is opposed to the existence of East Timor in its present organisational form, and comprises an ugly mix of former pro-Indonesia militia members and alienated former resistance fighters. Another coup bid was made in April 2005 after a serious dispute between Alkatiri and the Catholic Church over education policy.

Other claims that Gusmao was behind a more recent coup attempt lack evidence, while the further suggestion that Australia was behind Alkatiri's removal is contradicted by the sequence of events, not least being Australia's withdrawal of troops in mid-2005 against Alkatiri's express wishes. As Prime Minister, Ramos Horta will heal the rift with the Catholic Church and refocus efforts to tackles dissent among former resistance fighters. However, he is not likely to alter Fretilin's conservative economic policies, with perhaps the main change being that government spending may be more devolved, adding small stimulus to district economies.

If there is a problem with Ramos Horta's appointment, it is that there are some in Fretilin who remain unhappy with his role in Alkatiri's downfall. That the new Prime Minister does not belonging to the majority party will also influence Fretilin as it approaches the 2007 elections. To that end, Ramos Horta will have to clarify his own political ambitions.

Ramos Horta will be weighing up whether to try to stay on as Prime Minister, to become president, or to seek to become secretary-general of the United Nations.

To stay on as Prime Minister, Ramos Horta will have to negotiate rejoining Fretilin, which he left a decade and a half ago, given it is likely to remain the largest political party. If that was not successful, Ramos Horta would not bid for the presidency unless Gusmao fulfilled his long-standing wish to retire from public life.

There has also been speculation that Ramos Horta could replace Kofi Annan as head of the UN, although to be available for this he would be better positioned by resuming being foreign minister.

That will in turn depend on whether Ramos Horta's prime ministership is indeed interim, or whether the logic of his appointment is seen as too strong to end.

Damien Kingsbury is director of the masters in international and community development program at Deakin University. With Michael Leach, he is co-editor of the forthcoming book East Timor: Beyond Independence (Monash Asia Institute).


The Australian

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Timor Charts a Future

Jose Ramos Horta faces a formidable challenge in Dili

NOBEL Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta's swearing in as the Prime Minister of East Timor until elections in May next year is a welcome development for the future of the troubled state. Mr Ramos Horta, East Timor's foreign minister since 2002, is a moderate within the country's political elite, a pragmatist and a strong supporter of maintaining close ties with Australia. In these ways, he provides a stark contrast to his predecessor, Mari Alkatiri, who resigned last month. Dr Alkatiri has been ordered to face a Dili court on July 20 to answer charges he recruited a hit squad to target political opponents. While Mr Ramos Horta spent the 24 years of Indonesian occupation travelling the world as the spokesman for the East Timorese independence movement, Fretilin secretary-general Dr Alkatiri spent his exile in the Marxist state of Mozambique. The former prime minister generated ill-will towards Canberra during the negotiations over the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea, presenting Australia's stance as self-serving. This was despite a generous offer by Australia that could have tens of millions of dollars flowing to East Timor's treasury and deliver more than $5 billion over the coming years. Mr Ramos Horta must end the parliament's indecision about signing off on the deal and ensure it is urgently ratified.

The new Prime Minister has the disadvantage that his decades of absence spruiking for East Timorese independence mean he is not as well known throughout the tiny country of fewer than one million as some of his political opponents. Balancing this is that he comes to the job with the powerful patronage of his close friend President Xanana Gusmao, who appointed him on Saturday. He will need it. Mr Ramos Horta faces formidable challenges as he sets about charting a new course for economic development. Even with the presence of the 2500-strong Australian-led foreign peacekeeping force, the country is only just emerging from months of violent ethnic unrest. His first goal must be to restore the peace and security necessary to enable 155,000 refugees living in makeshift camps to return to their homes. He must sort out the grievances within East Timor's security forces that led to Dr Alkatiri sacking 600 of the army's 1400 soldiers, rebuild the country's police force and carry out his promised crackdown on corruption.

East Timor is Asia's poorest nation. There is much to do to reverse endemic unemployment and the social discontent it foments, provide safe drinking water, cut infant mortality and boost education and life expectancy. Two-thirds of East Timorese women and half the men aged 15 to 60 are illiterate, according to a UN Development Program report issued in March. Agriculture, especially the cultivation of coffee, rice and maize, is East Timor's major employer. The potential to export coffee is clear, but this will require a national effort to rebuild the shambolic road system to provide access to markets. The world has extended the hand of goodwill to help East Timor get back on its feet. Mr Ramos Horta must grab this opportunity.


Agence France-Presse July 10, 2006

ETimor's new PM pledges to restore hope

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta has taken office as East Timor's new prime minister, pledging to restore hope in the tiny nation shattered by weeks of uncertainty and unrest.

"Our people have suffered and many who were poor before the crisis have lost the little that they had, but they also lost faith in state institutions and in political leaders," he said in a speech after taking the oath of office.

"The government action in the weeks and months ahead (will be) to restore faith and hope, respect for our young democracy and for our young nation state."

Ramos-Horta said the priority for his government, which will rule until elections next May, would be restoring security and moving 150,000 people in refugee camps back home.

The refugees fled for the makeshift camps in the wake of violence in May between rival security force factions as well as fighting between ethnic gangs on the streets of Dili.

At least 21 people were killed and more than 2,200 foreign peacekeepers deployed to restore calm, in the worst crisis to envelop East Timor since it became the world's youngest nation in 2002.

Ramos-Horta took a brief oath in Portuguese to serve East Timor's people, witnessed by President Xanana Gusmao who appointed him to the position on Saturday, as well as senior lawmakers, church leaders and foreign diplomats.

"I, Jose Ramos-Horta, swear to God, in the name of the people and with my whole heart to carry out the duties and functions given to me," he said.

The 56-year-old Nobel laureate takes the place of Mari Alkatiri, who resigned as premier last month to take responsibility for the deadly mayhem.

Alkatiri had overseen the dismissal of about 600 members of the 1,400-strong army in March after they protested against discrimination, which triggered the crisis.

He also faces questioning over allegations he armed a civilian hit squad tasked with eliminating his opponents, charges he has vigorously denied.

Ramos-Horta said the government's focus would be on the most impoverished in East Timor -- which is Asia's poorest nation, although it has vast oil and gas reserves -- particularly in rural areas.

"This government will try to serve the best interests of the poor. This government is going to be the government for the poor. This government will be at the forefront in the fight against poverty," he pledged.

At one camp among scores dotting the seaside capital, refugees said they were optimistic Ramos-Horta was equipped for the job.

"I support the appointment of Horta as the new PM because he is suitable to lead the government. I am sure he can solve this crisis," said Nomalay Freitas, 38, an agricultural worker and father of three.

Ramos-Horta also apologised to the military and police for not managing the problems that emerged within their ranks before they degenerated into May's explosive violence.

He said the forces would be examined "so they can be reborn from this crisis more dignified and more deserving of the trust of our people".

Ramos-Horta won a Nobel peace prize for his non-violent campaign against Indonesia's 24-year rule. His name was on a shortlist of candidates for the prime ministership offered to Gusmao by Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party.

Although he is a political independent and not a party member, Ramos-Horta helped found the decades-old Fretilin, the political wing of East Timor's resistance against Portugal and then Indonesia.

The veteran statesman and a close ally of Gusmao, who pressured Alkatiri to resign, had been widely tipped as a frontrunner for the job, a delicate position given the implosion of the security forces.

Over the weekend he ruled out an immediate reshuffle of the government.

The president's office, where Monday's event was held, was guarded by around 50 of the Australian-led peacekeepers.

------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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