Subject: GU: Letter to Editor

The Guardian (UK) Thursday, June 29, 2006

Letter to the Editor

East Timor's struggle for stability

The reasons for the instability and breakdown in law and order in East Timor (Leaders, June 28) are many and complex. But the failure of the international community to address the culture of violence and impunity embedded in the country during Indonesia's 24-year military occupation is a significant contributing factor. In the seven years since East Timor was devastated by a campaign of violence, orchestrated by the Indonesian military, numerous recommendations on the question of justice have been made by official bodies. All have been virtually ignored or opposed. No Indonesian military officer has been convicted of crimes committed in 1999 or earlier.

A recent report by East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (Cavr) provides the most detailed documentation of the human rights abuses perpetrated between 1974 and 1999. It includes a number of important findings and recommendations concerning the UK's role in the conflict. In particular, it calls for reparations, a ban on visas for Indonesian military suspects and greater control over the arms trade. However, despite being the leading financial contributor to Cavr, the UK government has refused to respond to this report. It must do more to help the Timorese people build a democratic society based on justice and respect for the rule of law.

Paul Barber
The Indonesia Human Rights Campaign (TAPOL)


You claim that East Timor's enemy is mismanagement, misjudgment and a failure to build a sustainable economy. This account of the record of the country's elected leaders, the government led by Mari Alkatiri, is misleading for two reasons: first, there is ample evidence that the government was on course with regard to the management of economy as set out in the five-year plan approved by parliament and agreed with international donors. Evidence includes the latest statement by Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, during an April visit to East Timor. The negotiations with Australia over the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Gap have also been conducted with a firm hand by Alkatiri. This firmness did not, however, win him friends in Canberra.

Second, the elected government of East Timor has been toppled by those jockeying for power, with foreign support. Part of the strategy for undermining Alkatiri was to personally vilify him, particularly in the international media. Alkatiri has responded with restraint and close adherence to constitutional procedures. When the news of his resignation was announced, thousands of supporters massed outside Dili and prepared to enter the capital. However, he travelled to meet them in order to call for calm so as to avoid clashes with Xanana Gusmao's supporters already in the capital.

Dr Estevao Cabral
Department of international politics, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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