Subject: JP Interview/Mari Alkatiri: 'My resignation would only increase tension'

The Jakarta Post

Monday, June 19, 2006

Interview/Mari Alkatiri: 'My resignation would only increase tension'

The embattled Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Mari Alkatiri, is facing demands for his resignation amid claims by rebel leaders that he gave them weapons to kill opposition leaders ahead of next year's election, charges which he has repeatedly denied. Alkatiri, the secretary-general of the Fretilin majority party, talked to The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti on Friday, while outside Dili, one of the armed rebel groups holding military weapons began to return them through Australian troops, the largest group among the multinational forces.

Question: What was the cause of the crisis -- was it a lack of government authority regarding crucial posts, such as the interior minister overseeing the police or the post of the military chief?

Answer: A lot of people have tried to interfere in government affairs. Now, after having successfully interfered in the command and control of the police and military, they claim (the cause of the crisis) was the government.

We need to investigate clearly who interfered in the command and control of police and military. Until three or four months ago, the police were commended many times by the President as an example of a good institution; suddenly we have a completely fragmented police. I don't think it was really an accident.

What about the military?

The military is different, it was charges of discrimination of one group against the other. But if you make allegations you need to be prepared for an inquiry, but they (those who protested in peaceful demonstrations which turned violent) have been refusing up to now to participate in the whole process (conducted) to get the truth.

Even in the military if you talk to commanders and officers you will see there was political interference in professional institutions. But never by the government. Others did it, even foreign parties. I have no doubt that this is a coup attempt against the government, but let us have more time to investigate.

Would your resigning at least help to reduce tensions?

Exactly the opposite. If I resign now it's going to increase tension, because of my supporters (Fretilin has 55 out of 88 seats in parliament - editor).

Would Australia gain if you resigned?

Ask them, ask PM John Howard, (Foreign Minister Alexander) Downer, they will tell the truth, I trust them. If I was PM of the biggest power in the region I would never interfere in the affairs of others. I believe they would do the same.

What is it about your policies that are so disliked? Timor refusing loans maybe?

I'm doing my best to serve my people. Up to now we don't need loans; now we have money and the means to spend it. (The May report of Timor Leste's Petroleum Fund deposited at the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank says that of March 2006, the net asset value was US$508 million, compared to $370 million in December. - ed). Why would we need loans, it's not an ideological problem. Ideology is completely out of date, so I don't consider it (Alkatiri and his government is referred to "Marxist" and "communist" in local and foreign media; he lived as self-imposed exile in Mozambique and is known for "nationalist" policies such as rejecting the privatization of electricity. - ed)

Does this crisis have something to do with your oil resources?

It is better to make some comparative studies: When you're rich in oil and gas like Angola, Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela, you are always going to have trouble. We try to avoid problems, that is why we established an oil fund in a transparent way. But when people start to think you have money, they'll say why is the money in the bag and not distributed.

But it is not the poor who think like this, it's the populists. But we'll retain our system, commended by countries and institutions over the world. It is based on the Norwegian system regarding management of oil and gas but much more transparent. We have been inviting lots of experts on transparency.

As a small country it is much more difficult to resist and avoid neighbors. We hope that our neighbors and friends around the world will help us avoid even bigger problems than this one.

What are your current priorities?

Restoring law and order, working hard to serve the people and working hard to win again in the next elections. The priority now is to how to rebuild the police and how to really strengthen the national military; and how to get people's confidence back so they will go back to their homes. This is not easy.

What about the proposal of the opposition to have the president take over government?

They are afraid to face elections, they are claiming to be democratic but are against democracy, the rule of law, this is the kind of opposition that we have here ... some working with conservative groups, also from other countries (peaceful demonstrations protested plans to make religious studies optional, with unverified reports of foreign support. - Ed)

Maybe the president wants you removed?

For what reason? He is one of the biggest defenders of the constitution, he is already president. These groups have to work hard to build their own parties and not use others in an unconstitutional coup.The opposition has no real capacity.

How much do you think Timor Leste has achieved in its four years of independence?

Ask the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has commended (our) achievements, even during this crisis. There is no doubt there have big achievements.

Will this crisis be resolved in the near future?

No doubt; 75 percent of the problems are already overcome, mainly security. Groups like that of Maj. Alfredo Reinado (who handed in weapons Friday and who has accused government forces of killing military and civilian members) represent nothing in terms of people's support.

You're not worried about the military?

The military is loyal to the constitution.

So how are you coping amid allegations that you want to kill people?

It is my nature that I work very well under pressure. I believe those people who are trying to overthrow the government will not stop. They will try other ways; this morning some held a meeting of intellectuals of (all of Timor's 13 districts) to set up a shadow government, okay, then do it, let's face elections.

People are tired of demonstrations, of violence. So we're trying to do what we can to stop supporters to come down (to Dili); when Fretilin decides to come down it will be not 1,000 or 2,000 but 100,000 people or more. That is why we keep telling them to keep tolerating (provocation) and not making provocation.

In hindsight could any of this be prevented?

It's not easy. The only way is to have professional media, strong institutions like the police and army working together and some intelligence service; this is a country of only four years.

The main lesson is when you have problems in the army or police they must be resolved quickly, don't give time for these problems to be political. Such matters (initially a protest by military personnel) are normally resolved by government. Yes (the resolving) was very slow but this was also because of overlapping of competence, interference in the military and police.

In this country institutional life it not yet strong, while personalities are strong. Individuals still have leverage to be used and you need to manage this and give some time; if not managed properly it will become a disaster. And this generation of leadership has to do everything possible for the next generation, to provide a legacy of a democratic culture, a culture to respect the rule of law. If they fail to do this it will be difficult for the next generation.

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

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