|Subject: AU: Timor PM calls Gusmao bluff by
refusing to quit
June 24, 2006
Timor on the tightrope
President Xanana Gusmao is pitted against his old party in a battle for the future of East Timor, Hamish McDonald reports.
IN TIMOR there is the politics of Dili - this lethargic little seaside capital of low white buildings and tall tropical trees, where Portuguese-speaking political leaders drive from meeting to meeting in dark-windowed luxury four-wheel-drives, followed by carloads of bodyguards.
And there is the politics of the mountains, where bands of armed renegades, mostly speaking the common Malay-Portuguese patois of Tetum, sit in occupied properties high above the sea, trying to parlay their moments of notoriety and threat into political and personal concessions from those below.
This week, the two forms of politics collided and merged. Armed rebels and and two of the most senior and revered politicians joined in a single attack.
The immediate target was to oust the Prime Minister, a small, angular man called Mari Alkatiri, who has held a whip hand over the Government in this nation of 970,000 people since it was launched into independence by the United Nations four years ago.
Beyond that, there is a struggle against a bigger monster, Fretilin, the ruling party behind Alkatiri occupying 55 of the 88 seats in the country's parliament, the dominant seat of power under the country's Portuguese-style constitution.
Believing the party was on its way to becoming more powerful than the state itself, the President, Xanana Gusmao, and the Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, the two-best known figures from the struggle against the 24-year Indonesian occupation that ended in 1999, have set out to diminish and tame it. Both once belonged to Fretilin. Ramos Horta was one of its young founders in 1974-75 in the brief upsurge of local politics between the democratic revolution against fascist rule in the distant imperial capital of Lisbon and the Indonesian invasion. Gusmao took over its armed resistance wing, Falantil, after its first chief, Nicolau Lobato, was killed in 1978.
By the early 1990s, both had left, to make alliances with the more conservative Timorese elements who had tried to work with the Indonesians and who, disillusioned with that experience, saw an opening for independence in post-Cold War international politics.
Instead of the quasi-Marxist regimes formed out of violent liberation struggles in Portuguese Africa, their friends were to be found in the parliaments and church councils in the Western democracies. Ramos Horta simply quit the party and continued the diplomacy that eventually won him a joint Nobel Peace Prize with Dili's stubborn Catholic bishop, Carlos Belo. Gusmao took the entire Falantil with him.
After four years of watching Fretilin run the new country, culminating in the disastrous violence of April and May when the army and police fell to pieces and Australian-led peacekeepers were called in, the two leaders are now on the attack against their former party. Their thinking is that once Alkatiri and his authoritarian clique, who were exiles in Mozambique, are prised from office, and the United Nations is called in to supervise parliamentary elections next April, they will launch a new, inclusive political party. This, they hope, will recapture the spirit of the all-party National Resistance Committee, which guided the East Timorese through the massive intimidation of the Indonesian authorities and their militias to a successful vote for independence in 1999.
The objection is not so much to the way Fretilin is running the economy. Marxist it is certainly not. The past four years have seen austere budgets, and if anything an over-careful husbanding of the first oil and gas revenues coming from the Timor Sea, which Alkatiri has placed in a Norwegian-model petroleum fund invested with the US Federal Reserve. "These are the best little bunch of neo-liberals you could wish for," said one foreign aid official.
The perceived fault is more Fretilin's Leninist organisation, its squeezing of the weak opposition parties, its nepotism and its pervasive contract padding and kickbacks, though even his opponents concede that Alkatiri is clean. With the independence mood of "Ita mos bele" ("We also can do it") now dissipated, along with the prosperity generated by UN spending from 1999 to 2002, moderate voters would desert Fretilin, leaving it with a rump of diehard radicals. "My sense is that if the election is free and impartial, they would not even cross 40 per cent of the vote," says Joao Mariano Saldanha, an American political and economic analyst advising Gusmao.
But first, Alkatiri. By Tuesday this week, Gusmao and Ramos Horta had closed what they hoped was a fail-proof trap. Since May, they had been aware of what seemed like a fatal overreach by the Prime Minister and the even more disliked former interior minister, Rogerio Lobato, long known to both as a dangerous character trading on his cachet as the brother of resistance leader Nicolau and his own hot temper.
In 1978, with Ramos Horta's then wife Ana Pessoa and young son as hostages, he had lured the envoy back from his annual vigil at the UN General Assembly and kept him prisoner in Maputo in Mozambique for "compromising the independence struggle", at one point lunging at Ramos Horta with a pair of scissors. Eventually, Mozambique authorities intervened.
In 2002, Lobato blackmailed his way into Fretilin's new cabinet by stirring up disgruntled former guerillas like the charismatic "L-7" who had not been inducted into the new 1400-man army. Their threats and blockades ended when Lobato was inducted into the government as interior minister, putting him in charge of the 3500-strong national police. "It was like appointing Al Capone to run the bank or Imelda Marcos to run the shoe factory," said one source close to Ramos Horta and Gusmao. As evidence gathered this week by the Herald showed, Lobato immediately began turning the barely trained police into a rival force to the army, which remained politically neutral with the president as nominal commander-in-chief.
A range of special units were formed, and orders placed for high-powered assault weapons and vast quantities of ammunition. The police commander, Paulo Martins, who had been a colonel in the Indonesian police, was soon at loggerheads with Lobato over the way his force was supposed to support Fretilin.
Events of the past few months are still murky. Why were complaints in the army ranks, by young recruits from the western part of the country about taunts and discrimination by old resistance veterans, mostly from the east, allowed to fester until 591 of the soldiers were led out of their barracks by an officer under a cloud over a smuggling incident? "There was mistake after mistake," says Mario Carrascalao, a leader of the small opposition Social Democratic Party. "A small problem became a big problem."
The soldiers were dismissed in March, and then brought their grievances to Dili, sparking riots on April 28 which saw the army fire on civilians. In May, Alkatiri manoeuvred against a leadership challenge in Fretilin headed by Jose Guterres, Timor's ambassador in the United States, at Fretilin's five-yearly congress. Always the sharpest reader of the rule book, Alkatiri got delegates to agree to an open vote, counting on the climate of fear and official favour in party ranks. Guterres withdrew, and Alkatiri was reaffirmed almost unanimously.
But in following days, Dili lapsed into violence again after dissident military policemen under their commander, Major Alfredo Reinado, started firefights with army units, while deserting police and the dismissed soldiers took control of the western coffee growing centres of Ermera and Gleno.
Then Gusmao became aware of a mysterious third force joining attacks on the army headquarters at Tacitolu, on the outskirts of Dili, on May 24 and 25 in which 11 assailants and soldiers died. As well as Major Reinado's troops, there were mysterious men in badgeless green uniforms, armed with Heckler and Koch 33 automatic rifles like those donated to the police by Malaysia.
Their leader, a local Fretilin organiser and former Falantil guerilla named Vicente da Conceicao, or "Commander Railos", was ready to talk. With four of his 30 men killed by the army, Railos told Gusmao his group had been armed by the police after a meeting on May 7 with Alkatiri and Lobato, at Alkatiri's house. The Prime Minister and interior minister asked them to form a secret Fretilin security force to intimidate political rivals.
By coincidence or not, the ABC's Four Corners program was also on the case, assembling damning footage of Railos and his ease of contact with Lobato, and releasing a small taste of the documentary eventually broadcast last Monday.
Gusmao had been in contact with Railos several times before, and on Monday dispatched Ramos Horta to take a formal statement from Railos, who by then was singing his story to all-comers, at his group's camp in an old Portuguese mountain fort at Baibao, close to Fazenda Algarve, the Carrascalao coffee plantation.
After a colourful welcome that included a line of cutlass-wielding warriors, rows of men in leather sombreros and women in their best floral sarongs and blouses, and a formal guard of Railos's men, presenting arms with their illegal HK-33 rifles, Railos handed Ramos Horta impeccably printed documents on the group's alleged dealings with Alkatiri and Lobato, in detail down to the serial numbers of the weapons, vehicles and uniforms supplied by the police.
On Tuesday, the Prosecutor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, issued arrest warrants against Lobato, bringing him before a judge on Thursday to face charges attracting a maximum 15 years' jail.
Gusmao, meanwhile, delivered a letter to Alkatiri. "After seeing the Four Corners program, which enormously shocked me, there is nothing left for me to do except give you the choice," he wrote in Portuguese. "Either you resign, or after hearing the Council of State, I will dismiss you because you no longer deserve my confidence."
But after reeling from the President's threat, and strong criticism in the Council of State on Wednesday, Alkatiri regrouped. The links between him and Railos were tenuously demonstrated, any criminal charges would rely on Lobato's evidence.
Facing a stubborn Alkatiri, Gusmao played what may be his last wild card. On Thursday night, he ended a two-hour televised tirade against Fretilin with a new ultimatum: if Alkatiri did not resign or the party begin moves to sack him, Gusmao would resign himself. "I am ashamed of all the bad things that have happened," he said, adding he "didn't have a brave face to show the people".
But shame may not count in this island's unforgiving political culture.
Timor PM calls Gusmao bluff by refusing to quit
Stephen Fitzpatrick and Mark Dodd June 24, 2006
EAST TIMOR'S popular head of state, Xanana Gusmao, yesterday failed to deliver on a threat to resign after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, his political enemy, refused to bend to the President's ultimatum that he stand down.
In the face of the Prime Minister's defiance, Mr Gusmao held a series of meetings with political supporters, diplomats and sympathetic clergy, who emerged declaring that he should stay.
Just 24 hours after telling supporters he would hand in his own resignation if the ruling Fretilin party did not deal with the "problem" of Dr Alkatiri's Government, Mr Gusmao appeared before adoring crowds alongside wife Kirsty Sword Gusmao and rebel leader Vicente "Railos" Da Conceicao.
Mr Conceicao has alleged this month that he was armed to lead a hit squad charged with assassinating political opponents of Dr Alkatiri.
The Prime Minister was briefly mobbed late yesterday as he emerged from his office in the government building on Dili's waterfront but was whisked away by a security detail.
Mr Gusmao told the crowd that East Timor had won its independence "through bravery and cleverness, not through Xanana", and warned that the country's leadership "must listen to what the people want".
He smiled faintly at repeated calls from hecklers in the crowd for Dr Alkatiri to be sacked. But the Prime Minister appears to have successfully called the bluff of Mr Gusmao.
The embattled Alkatiri Government increasingly fears its opponents are using the international forces as a cover for their attempts to depose him. But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer insisted Australia had done nothing to encourage Mr Gusmao and his Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta.
And he warned yesterday that East Timor's political leaders could not rely on an Australian-led peacekeeping force to stay in the troubled country indefinitely.
"We've got these 1300 troops on the ground in East Timor," Mr Downer said. "We've made a big effort to keep the place stable but you (East Timor) mustn't think we can stay there indefinitely while you fail to resolve your political problems."
Among those who visited Mr Gusmao yesterday were Indonesia's ambassador to East Timor, Ahmed Bey Sofyan, who pressed Mr Gusmao to stand firm, and Opposition leader and former Indonesian-era governor Mario Carrascalao.
The top UN official in East Timor also appealed to Mr Gusmao to not carry out his threat.
"The continued presence of President Xanana Gusmao is indispensable for the maintenance of peace and stability of Timor Leste," Sukehiro Hasegawa said.
A senior Western diplomat in Dili warned last night that the political standoff in East Timor could drag on for weeks. "Right now, all this is about egos," he said, asking not to be named. "Ultimately, it is all about power and money -- oil money."
The diplomat said there was no evidence that Indonesia was stirring up the crisis in East Timor, which stands to make billions of dollars from the exploitation of gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
"Indonesia is happy to let the East Timorese play games and have Australia pay for it," the diplomat said.
Thousands of anti-Alkatiri protesters yesterday answered the provocative call by Mr Gusmao to confront the Government on the streets, with the Australian-dominated security forces forced to ensure they stayed under control.
The frantic, behind-the-scenes negotiations came as a group backing potential Alkatiri replacement Jose Luis Guterres -- East Timor's ambassador to the US and the UN -- said it expected Mr Guterres to return from New York to fight the "arse-lickers and opportunists" in Dr Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin Party.
It is expected a Fretilin central committee meeting today will address the leadership issue.
Dr Alkatiri held a meeting of key ministers -- though not the full cabinet -- at his central Dili home yesterday after bands of protesters around his office posed an apparent security threat.
Passive people power colours capital
Stephen Fitzpatrick in Dili June 24, 2006
FOR a people-power revolution, it's tidy and mighty well organised.
In contrast to the violent clashes that split Dili a month ago, the protests of recent days have been colourful, festive affairs, with the self-proclaimed intention of bringing down Mari Alkatiri's Government by purely peaceful means.
Knots of young men -- there is barely a woman among them -- loll about the cracked seafront boulevarde fronting the Palacio dos G, sheltering from the midday sun under aged trees that climb out of the dusty ground.
Others sit in the shade of the work trucks that have brought them in their hundreds to the city, mainly from the country's western districts where the best-organised of the opposition to Alkatiri's fading rule lies.
As each new convoy arrives, it does a victory lap through the tired old town, where even in recent days plumes of oily, black smoke from deliberately lit house fires mar the horizon.
But after the trucks full of rowdy youths do their victory lap of the immediate parliamentary environs, their occupants are ordered to the footpath and frisked by volunteer protest organisers. The vehicles themselves are then directed to orderly parking spots.
The protesters work in shifts, many disappearing for lunch and a siesta at the height of the day. As each day draws to a close, the crowd is enlarged by rowdy visitors from the country's farthest reaches. The past two days, they have been rewarded with an appearance by their revered President, Xanana Gusmao, who has almost god-like status in the eyes of ordinary East Timorese.
However, the combination of tropical heat and fiery temperament means that things could always get out of hand; it is significant that the protesters are waging their noisily orchestrated struggle on exactly the same patch of roadway where demonstrations turned deadly two months ago.
Hundreds of supporters of a group at the origins of the current crisis -- former East Timorese soldiers from the country's western-based ethnic group claiming they were being discriminated against in favour of easterners -- gathered on this spot to make their displeasure known.
Late in the day, tempers raged out of control, and despite attempts at peacemaking by Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, the mob attacked Alkatiri's offices and torched cars parked outside it.
At least five people died in that violence, and there are reports of soldiers shooting unarmed civilians through the following night, resulting in the deaths of 60 people.
But for the moment, the protesters say they will simply occupy the seat of government until it is returned to them.
The battle of wills is not only between Gusmao and Alkatiri, but also one that is held in the hands of all East Timorese. Some of them venture that this is "the most exciting time" to be a citizen of this barely born nation.
PM - Alkatiri and Gusmao reach stalemate
[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1670630.htm]
PM - Friday, 23 June , 2006 18:10:00
Reporter: Anne Barker
MARK COLVIN: The situation in East Timor has come down to a staring match between the two men at the top of the political system, the President and the Prime Minister.
After President Xanana Gusmao threatened to resign last night, thousands of his supporters have poured into Dili today for what so far has been a mostly peaceful demonstration.
But his threat means it's a question of who'll blink first - him or Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
And it appears that Dr Alkatiri's position has been severely weakened by testimony from his former Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato.
Anne Barker joins me now on the line from Dili.
Now, Anne, Rogerio Lobato was the interior minister, and he was at the centre of the allegations in that Four Corners story which has been royaling East Timorese politics all this week.
What do we... have you now been able to confirm that he has told the prosecutors?
ANNE BARKER: Well, Mark, I've got it on very good authority that it's been completely confirmed that he has corroborated the story of Colonel Railos.
Now that's the man who, a former Falintal resistance fighter, who claims that he and thirty of his men, all civilians, had been recruited as a death squad, if you like, to eliminate the political rivals of Mari Alkatiri.
Now his story was that it was on orders from the Prime Minister himself that Rogerio Lobato had acted, even though it was the former Interior Minister who authorised the transfer of weapons from a border patrol unit out west to his men.
Now, Rogerio Lobato has been charged and appeared in court yesterday. He faces four charges and he... I am told that in court, he corroborated the evidence.
He confirms that it was Mari Alkatiri who gave the orders and he confirmed a meeting on the 7th of May, which Railos had talked about in the last couple of weeks, where he says that that's when they met the Prime Minister himself and discussed this proposal for a hit squad.
MARK COLVIN: You have been talking to the Prosecutor-General over the last few days, and he's gone from a situation of saying there's no evidence against Dr Alkatiri, to a slightly softer line. What's he likely... how's he likely to respond to this, do you think?
ANNE BARKER: Well, look, he's still officially saying that there's not enough hard evidence to charge or even indict Mari Alkatiri, but certainly they're still investigating it.
And yesterday outside the court, he said that it would depend on the case against Rogerio Lobato as to whether it went any further.
But certainly, if that's the sort of testimony we're going to hear, and you would expect that other people will give evidence as well, then it would be hard to see that they wouldn't pursue some sort of legal case against the Prime Minister.
MARK COLVIN: Indeed, if Rogerio Lobato says that Mari Alkatiri gave the orders, you can't see that there wouldn't be a case to answer because he'd be the most likely witness in any such case.
ANNE BARKER: That's right, but whether it comes down, I mean, there was a suggestion a couple of days ago that perhaps some of this evidence might be in the category of hearsay, and so it's a matter of one man's word against another.
So, it's too early to know just how seriously the prosecutors would take this evidence...
MARK COLVIN: So we don't...
ANNE BARKER: I'm told also that it could be 21 days before Rogerio Lobato appears in court again, so it might be a while before we hear anything more.
MARK COLVIN: So we don't yet know the precise nature of it, whether Rogerio Lobato has said 'Mari Alkatiri gave the orders to me, or in my hearing'?
ANNE BARKER: I don't know the wording, but when I put that question to somebody, I was told that, yes that is effectively what he said, so certainly it's political dynamite, really, that, you know, if Rogerio Lobato maintains that story and it comes out in court over the next few weeks then, as you say it's hard to see that there wouldn't be a case against the Prime Minister.
MARK COLVIN: Under those circumstances, it would be much more likely then, that it would be Mari Alkatiri resigning than Xanana Gusmao?
ANNE BARKER: You'd have to say that, but the timing again might be a factor here.
If it is going to be a few weeks before this case goes much further, and these investigations look like they're going to take a while to be completed, there may well be some sort of outcome on the political front well before then, but certainly today, there is no sign of anyone resigning, neither the Prime Minister nor the President.
MARK COLVIN: Meanwhile, from what I understand, that Four Corners story has been widely seen in East Timor and there are a lot of Xanana Gusmao supporters, or perhaps people who have just been angry at what they saw in that story, who have poured into Dili.
What's it been like there today?
ANNE BARKER: Look, the protests have grown considerably just in the last 24 hours.
We've been told for several days that there were going to be tens of thousands potentially by the end of the week. Now, that didn't quite happen but suddenly last night, in just a couple of hours after President Xanana Gusmao gave his speech, we had truckloads of people, long convoys coming in, in the middle of the night, in fact, even this morning they were still arriving from ever district in the country.
So there are several hundred people on the streets, and it's become a two-fold protest in a way. Until now it's been a protest calling for Mari Alkatiri's resignation but now it's very much a protest in favour of the President.
People are very concerned that the President might carry out his threat to resign and you can now see cars going around the streets with large posters of Xanana Gusmao on a dashboard and trucks with Xanana Gusmao sort of on the side, so it's very much a pro-president and anti-Alkatiri rally.
MARK COLVIN: It's going to be an interesting weekend. Thank you very much, Anne Barker.
Anne Barker, our Correspondent in Dili.