Subject: FT: East Timor's ethnic violence puzzles analysts

SCMP: Helping in the hour of need

Financial Times (London, England)

June 10, 2006 Saturday London Edition 1

East Timor's ethnic violence puzzles analysts The emergence of fighting has taken many by surprise after a hard-won independence campaign, says Shawn Donnan


Like many East Timorese, Maria da Costa has faced plenty of tragedy in her life. At 30 she is already a widow, having lost a husband to the violence that accompanied Indonesia's 1999 exit from its occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

But lately she has been encountering a new threat that has the hallmarks of another tragedy in the making. Gangs in her neighbourhood on the western outskirts of Dili, East Timor's capital, have in recent weeks set about terrorising people who, like her family, are originally from the tiny country's eastern districts.

Homes have been burnt. Late-night gunshots have rung out. An indeterminate number of people have died. So for more than a month, home for Mrs da Costa, her three children and two brothers has been an orange tarpaulin on the edge of a basketball court in Dili's Dom Bosco convent.

There, together with some 15,000 others, she has been waiting for an end to the violence so she can go home and ponder the ethnic tensions that have taken only months to emerge in the world's newest nation but may well take years to go away. "We didn't have this issue before," Mrs da Costa said this week. "I'm just an ordinary person. I have no problem with the westerners."

Until recently there were few signs of ethnic divides in East Timor, let alone what increasingly looks like the ethnic cleansing of entire neighbourhoods by young men wielding machetes. Many long-term observers of East Timor say they learned only recently of the divide between the "Lorosae" (easterners) and "Loromonu" (westerners). "When I was here in 1999 I never asked anyone whether they were Lorosae or Loromonu," Ian Martin, the head of the United Nations mission that in 1999 administered the vote that led to the end of Indonesian rule, told reporters this week as he left Dili after a nine-day visit to assess the situation for Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general.

No one quite understands the root of the divide, other than in terms of simple geography. One explanation is offered by people such as Joaquim Fonseca, a prominent Timorese human rights activist with a recent master's degree in social policy from the London School of Economics.

He says there is a belief that as Indonesia's 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony moved from west (towards the Indonesian border) to east, western districts were pacified first and the most enduring pockets of resistance were in the eastern parts of the country. There followed a perception that most of the Falintil guerrillas who led the 24-year fight against Indonesian occupation were Lorosae rather than Loromonu.

However, he says the idea makes little sense, as resistance to Indonesian rule was in fact fairly uniform across East Timor. While many of the eastern Falintil guerrillas spent years in the jungle, it was often in the west where they survived with the support of a clandestine movement dominated by westerners.

What appear to have been underlying tensions between east and west surfaced earlier this year following adispute over pay and promotions between disgruntled former soldiers from the west - mostly recent recruits to the military - and eastern commanders with Falintil pedigrees.

It was not until April 28, when six people died during an anti-government protest and the crackdown ordered by the prime minister Mari Alkatiri that followed, that ethnic violence began. By the end of May ethnic gangs were moving through Dili's neighbourhoods wielding machetes and burning down houses even as a peacekeeping force arrived.

Mr Alkatiri is accused by the opposition of fuelling the violence. But he dismisses Lorosae-Loromonu tensions altogether, instead blaming opponents who he says were trying to make his ruling Fretilin party look bad ahead of elections next year.

Plenty of others are taking the divide more seriously, however. The issue may have taken only months to emerge but "now it is difficult to wash it from the minds of the people", says Mario Carrascalao, an opposition leader and respected former Indonesian governor of East Timor. "It won't just take one or two years to wash away."

The UN estimates some 65,000 people - mostly easterners - have fled Dili, which lies in the west and had a population of about 150,000 before the crisis.


South China Morning Post

June 10, 2006 Saturday

Helping in the hour of need

A PORTUGUESE gendarmerie force was welcomed last Sunday by crowds in East Timor after arriving to help with international peacekeeping efforts.

The 127 Portuguese policemen are operating alongside about 2,000 peacekeepers from the Asia-Pacific region, including soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia who are attempting to quell the most serious civil strife since the country gained full independence four years ago.

Portugal, as the colonial power for almost 300 years, has maintained strong ties with Timor-Lest (as it is known in the nation's second official language, Portuguese). Moreover, as a result of their shared history, both countries have overwhelmingly Roman Catholic populations.

More recently, Portugal helped finance East Timor's 1999-2002 independence process. However, the recent troubles have created a refugee crisis of a scale that has demanded international intervention, one that Lisbon has been quick to respond to.

The present hostilities began when a dispute over ethnic favouritism within the East Timor army exploded into general lawlessness that has seen roaming gangs torching buildings, destroying property, and attacking each other as well as unarmed civilians.

Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates announced the deployment - "a gesture of solidarity" - after his government took the decision on May 25, following an appeal from East Timor authorities and diplomatic contacts in the United Nations.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan personally called Mr Sócrates to tell him that the UN fully backed Portugal's plans for participation in international efforts to restore law and order.

In addition to quelling rioting and unrest, the Portuguese National Republican Guard is training local security forces, a crucial role in this country where Portuguese is widely spoken. The Portuguese force was sent within the framework of a bilateral agreement and will work under Timorese command. An advance team left for the capital Dili on May 26.

Portugal's association with the tiny southeast Asian country began nearly 500 years ago when sea-faring Portuguese merchants started trading with the island of Timor in the early 16th century. The island became a Portuguese colony in 1702 with the arrival of the first governor from Lisbon.

Imperial rivalry with the Dutch in the region eventually resulted in an 1859 treaty in which Portugal ceded the western portion of the island. Japan occupied East Timor from 1942 to 1945 and ruled with appalling brutality, but Portuguese administration returned after Japan's defeat at the end of the second world war.

East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on November 28, 1975, but Indonesian forces moved in nine days later. It was incorporated into its giant neighbour in July 1976 as the province of East Timor.

On August 30, 1999, in a UN-supervised referendum, a huge majority of East Timorese citizens voted for independence. Following a period of fierce fighting instigated by Indonesia loyalists, peacekeeping troops of the International Force for East Timor (whose numbers included Portuguese peacekeepers), arrived the following month and brought the violence to an end. On May 20, 2002 East Timor was internationally recognised as an independent state.

However, initial upbeat projections and expectations for the country's future have not been fulfilled.

Nick Walker

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