|Subject: UN rejects early poll for Timor
East Timor reports:
- The Australian: Friend and foe in free-for-all [East Timor's problems are increasingly irritating the Howard Government, write Stephen Fitzpatrick in Dili and Mark Dodd in Canberra]
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Friend and foe in free-for-all
East Timor's problems are increasingly irritating the Howard Government, write Stephen Fitzpatrick in Dili and Mark Dodd in Canberra
ONE often hears it said that in East Timor there used to be just one enemy, the Indonesians, but things are far more complicated these days. There's a grain of truth in that, as was evident from President Xanana Gusmao's plea on national television this week that the crisis should not be perceived as a political struggle between him and deposed prime minister Mari Alkatiri.
The unpopular Alkatiri is fighting a desperate political battle, and the pendulum may yet swing back in his favour.
Any East Timorese will tell you Alkatiri is up to his neck in conspiring to arm gangs, but the evidence is proving elusive and Alkatiri denies involvement. His no-show yesterday for a scheduled court appearance to answer questions about alleged arming of pro-government militias underscores his growing confidence.
"This stand-off, which looked to have broken, is now threatening to broaden from a Gusmao v Alkatiri contest to a Gusmao v Fretilin conflict," says a Western diplomat in Dili. "Meanwhile, there is no effective government: the prime minister has resigned and the defence and foreign minister has resigned. There is (at present) no leader, no East Timorese voice. It's hazy at best."
Gusmao was making a different plea a week earlier when the former guerilla leader gave a tearful two-hour oration to demonstrators massed in Dili and declared that he was prepared to resign if Alkatiri didn't. The ruling Fretilin party stood defiant after that challenge, holding a meeting of its central committee last Sunday to reaffirm its support for Fretilin secretary-general Alkatiri, who was appointed prime minister after elections in 2001.
A day later, however, Alkatiri blinked. Calling journalists to his residence in Farol (the closest Dili gets to an upmarket address), he read out a prepared statement announcing his plan to quit "to avoid the resignation of His Excellency the President".
It was not quite open warfare but the battle lines were drawn. Fretilin has since assembled thousands of Alkatiri supporters in Dili to protest against his downfall; there are accusations that some were paid to leave their crops and homes in the country's east to shout anti-Gusmao slogans in the capital. Meanwhile, most of the anti-Alkatiri protesters have returned to their towns and villages in the west on the basis of Gusmao's promise to deal with the crisis quickly.
Those who remain to taunt Dili's latest arrivals are mainly gangs of teenage boys hurling rocks and insults, and torching the homes of real and imagined enemies.
The two politicians took to the stage in front of the colonial-era governor's palace yesterday to speak to the crowd: first Gusmao and then, after 10 minutes, Alkatiri. The President promised he would accept the consequences if investigators could prove he was responsible for the violence that has killed at least 21 people, destroyed whole neighbourhoods in Dili and set the country on edge. Alkatiri told his followers he valued peace more highly than money. But early optimism that his departure would clear remaining hurdles in the way of a unified government has all but disappeared.
"We have a simple message," Fretilin official Filomeno Aleixo on Thursday. "Respect the constitution and rule of law. Recognise Fretilin's democratic mandate to govern until the next election."
Canberra is starting to look concerned. In a series of statements this week, Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer expressed growing irritation at the inability of East Timor's squabbling politicians to put their house in order. They warned Australia's 1300-strong troop deployment in Dili can't be indefinite, although the present situation prevents Australia from walking away. Too much is at stake. Australia's senior military commander in East Timor, Brigadier Michael Slater, this week voiced concern that the longer the crisis lasts, the more his force will be subject to manipulation.
"So far no one has been able to manipulate the taskforce and they (East Timorese politicians) are frustrated at that. I take that as a measure of our success. They are frustrated and distressed," he says.
But some anti-Australian banners have made their first appearance at pro-Alkatiri rallies in Dili. While stressing its neutral credentials in the crisis, the Government in Canberra shed no tears when Alkatiri announced his resignation.
Alkatiri is deeply suspicious of the Howard Government, his grievances reinforced by the protracted Timor Sea oil and gas negotiations. And he was a reluctant signatory to the agreement paving the way for the arrival of peacekeepers to restore law and order on the riot-torn streets of Dili.
Although finding a suitably qualified administrator to replace Alkatiri is proving tough, there are a number of people who would be acceptable to the Howard Government, including former defence and foreign minister (and Nobel Peace Prize laureate) Jose Ramos Horta. Then there is Jose Luis Guterres, East Timor's ambassador to the US and UN, who withdrew from a Fretilin leadership spill in May when voting rules were changed from a secret ballot to a show of hands. Agriculture Minister Estanislau da Silva, an Alkatiri ally, is another possible candidate. He holds an Australian passport and made good use of it recently, escaping to Darwin when trouble erupted on the streets. erupted.
As East Timor's crisis worsens, so do concerns about its long-term impact on the impoverished country.
In the latest UN assessment, more than 150,000 Timorese have been displaced as a result of the ethnic violence triggered in January by a spat about regional differences among defence force recruits.
Whether Gusmao and Alkatiri are friends or foes is only a small part of the upheaval besetting a nation well used to unrest. The crisis stems from a division within the army - nearly 600 soldiers from the west claim they were discriminated against by those from the east - and sides have been taken across the political structure based on this dispute.
Fretilin has contributed, albeit perhaps unwittingly, to the problem, though suggesting as much raises the ire of party faithful who point to the party's role in spearheading the opposition to Indonesian rule between 1975 and 1999.
Fretilin was formed in late 1974 to take advantage of a coup in Lisbon that had loosened Portugal's grip on its long-time Southeast Asian colony. Fretilin declared independence for East Timor and then fought to maintain this position through the years of Indonesian occupation. Australian popular and diplomatic support was crucial during these years, particularly through the efforts of party co-founder Ramos Horta.
However, opponents complain that Fretilin's central committee has too tight a grip on the mechanisms of state; rebuilding contracts, for instance, are awarded in a less than transparent manner. Any opposition to the doctrinaire organisation is staunchly resisted. So, Gusmao's two-hour plea was not directed only at Alkatiri. He also criticised the way Fretilin conducts its affairs, including the fact that Alkatiri's re-election as secretary-general last month by a show of hands was in direct contravention of electoral laws, which require a secret ballot.
There has long been a division between Fretilin and Gusmao and Ramos Horta, who left the party in the 1980s with a view to creating an independence movement of national unity. The enigmatic Gusmao led Falintil, the armed wing of this umbrella movement, and became a hero to many East Timorese during his time in a Jakarta jail.
But the struggle is broader still. East Timor is a land of opportunity and opportunists are stepping in. Dili is full of lawyers and businessmen. UN special representative Ian Martin is constantly in discussion with the key players about how best to rebuild the basket-case state.
Opposition leaders such as Democratic Party head Fernando Lasama de Araujo and Indonesian-era governor Mario Carrascalao are sensing an opportunity, and Alkatiri knows he must gird his party for the national elections next year.
He told his supporters in a paddock outside Dili on Wednesday that "from this day on" he would be working to increase Fretilin's majority in parliament; the party holds 55 seats in the 88-seat house, based on a 57 per cent majority at the 2001 poll.
Whether Alkatiri goes to that election as prime minister remains to be seen. Very little is clear in East Timor, especially who is friend and who is foe.
The Australian Saturday, July 1, 2006
UN rejects early poll for Timor
Mark Dodd and Stephen Fitzpatrick
THE UN has vetoed a proposal to hold early elections in East Timor, prompting a rare show of unity by political rivals President Xanana Gusmao and recently resigned prime minister Mari Alkatiri.
A senior East Timorese government official involved in negotiations to end the crisis said a new prime minister could be announced as early as Monday.
Several prominent East Timorese politicians, including Nobel peace prize winner Jose Ramos Horta, have said they would nominate for the job.
The official, who asked not to be named, said a proposal by Mr Gusmao to dissolve parliament and hold early elections had been rejected by the UN and would not proceed.
National elections are scheduled for May next year.
"The UN advised it was too short a time and, given the current situation, it would be unable to prepare the logistics and organise voter security, so that idea has been abandoned - it is not feasible," the official said.
Dr Alkatiri has defied a summons from East Timor's Prosecutor-General to answer charges of arming a secret hit squad, claiming legal immunity because he remains a member of parliament.
The former prime minister, who resigned this week, told prosecutor Longuinhos Monteiro he was prepared to co-operate with an investigation only if parliament agreed.
"We will send a letter to parliament requesting his immunity be withdrawn," Mr Monteiro said yesterday.
Dr Alkatiri's Fretilin party holds 55of the parliament's 88 seats but is not expected to oppose the prosecutor's request.
Dr Alkatiri told hundreds of people gathered outside his former office in the capital yesterday that it did not matter who was their leader.
"But to maintain national unity, Fretilin must win again at the next election," he said.
The crowd arrived in Dili on Thursday to voice support for the former prime minister, prompting violence and house burnings as members of East Timor's western-based Loromonu group renewed their opposition to Dr Alkatiri.
However, Dr Alkatiri's supporters, who are mostly from the east of the island nation, were kept within a tight cordon by Australian soldiers and Portuguese national guards.
Minor scuffles broke out, but peacekeepers maintained control.
The Alkatiri supporters began leaving Dili late yesterday afternoon after refuelling their trucks.
Mr Gusmao earlier told the same crowd that he would continue to serve as national leader until elections scheduled for early next year.
But he said he would stand down then "because there are other people more suited to the job than me".
The official said it was important for a new prime minister to be appointed as soon as possible because the national budget had to be ratified by parliament on July 15.
He said East Timor's 88-seat Constituent Assembly would convene on Monday to discuss steps to resolve the political crisis.
The UN humanitarian co-ordinator in East Timor, Finn Reske-Nielsen, said about 145,000 East Timorese displaced by months of unrest face a serious food shortage due to a lack of foreign aid.
He warned of a hunger crisis in coming weeks in districts outside Dili if the international community fails to provide urgent support.
The World Food Program - which has been feeding those who fled since violence erupted in the former Portuguese colony in March - was reducing rations because of a donor shortfall.
That has been worsened in some districts by the collapse of the economy.
Financial Times (UK) June 30, 2006
The world must heed the harsh lessons of East Timor
By ARNOLD KOHEN and LAWRENCE KORB
The tragic renewal of violence in East Timor and unfolding political crisis there should stimulate a tough reappraisal of the way the world community, not least the US, approaches international peacekeeping. For the sake of the long-suffering people of East Timor - and other peacekeeping operations - it is time to learn from past mistakes.
With a temporary Australian-led force in place, the United Nations Security Council is considering a new peacekeeping effort in East Timor to help maintain order before and after elections next year. One hopes that recent remarks by John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, suggesting that Washington may oppose it, are not the last words on this issue.
It is a disturbing reality that peacekeeping missions move according to a logic and schedule that have little to do with the needs of a particular place. They are focused instead on budgets and other international commitments. Every time there is an emergency, a new begging bowl is passed around. In spite of the large demand for troops, few are readily available. And, as the East Timor experience has illustrated, the best expert advice means little if the nations in charge of the mission choose to ignore unpleasant facts. We must find better mechanisms to utilise expert knowledge and reach beyond a small layer of government officials to tap authentic public sentiment.
Several factors, including animosities inside the local security forces and political rivalries, ignited the crisis in East Timor, where 151,000 people have taken refuge in squalid tent cities to avoid further brutality and the possibility of a fresh outbreak of fighting that has killed at least 30 people since April.
But the situation might never have deteriorated so badly if peacekeepers and expert advisers with solid negotiating skills had remained - as they have in Bosnia since 1995 - instead of leaving last year. Historical responsibility cannot be overlooked. Throughout Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor, the US staunchly backed Jakarta both with arms shipments and by blunting criticism in Congress and the UN. But wanting to save money on peacekeeping, the Bush administration pushed for the withdrawal of UN troops as soon as East Timor became independent in 2002. With the eruption of conflict, the folly of this penny-wise, pound-foolish stance is plain.
To the casual observer, East Timor may have seemed peaceful before the recent fighting. After decades of trauma, however, it was far more volatile than it appeared.
East Timor's truth and reconciliation commission has determined that as many as 180,000 people, more than a quarter of the population, perished from the effects of Indonesian rule from 1975 until 1999 when East Timor voted to leave Indonesia and Indonesian-backed militias laid waste tothe territory. Torture and rape were widespread.
Many urban youth had been among those tortured. In some instances their torturers were hired for the national police force because they had prior experience in police work under Indonesia. With more than 50 per cent of young people and many veterans of the independence struggle without jobs, East Timor became a tinderbox.
International agencies' officials have sheepishly conceded that job-creating development should have been a higher priority, especially in agriculture. As experienced international peacekeepers know, a lack of serious engagement on the economic front will inevitably come back to haunt the international community - precisely what is now reported about Afghanistan.
International donors and a re-structured government must seriously address widespread poverty in East Timor. This should start with reconstruction and other public works projects to engage unemployed veterans and youth, and include support for rural livelihoods.
If a small fraction of the Dollars 1,000bnin annual world military spending were devoted to a permanent fund for international peacekeeping missions, it would be far easier to address the plight of places such as East Timor. If a portion of the peacekeeping budget went to well-targeted economic help, far larger military expenditures to stabilise violent upheavals would be unnecessary next time.
Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, was an assistant secretary of defence in the Reagan Administration. Arnold Kohen, international co-ordinator of Global Priorities, an inter-religious initiative to change budget priorities, is author of From the Place of the Dead (St Martins Press, US; Lion, UK)
--------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service