|Subject: Timor Analyses-2: Age: Ruled By
The Gun; Courier-Mail Feature; Editorial
3 reports (2 of 2):
- The Age: A Nation Ruled by the Gun
- Courier-Mail Feature/East Timor: Broken Promises Fuel Fury
- The Australian Editorial: Whither East Timor? [Challenge to sustain peace on our doorstep is long-term]
The Age (Melbourne) Saturday, May 27, 2006
A Nation Ruled by the Gun
By Mark Forbes
photo: Deathin the streets ... an East Timorese police officer calls for help as several of his colleagues lie wounded or dead after skirmishes in the capital, Dili, this week. EPA/Manuel de Almeida
After 48 hours of bloodshed on the streets of Dili, Australian troops face a grim task to restore peace to the world's youngest nation, which teeters on the brink.
WIDE-EYED youths brandish machetes, armed militias rampage through the streets, terrified civilians flee, soldiers lay siege to police headquarters and your sleep is broken by rifle bursts, heavy machine guns and the thump of grenades. Welcome to East Timor, the world's youngest nation on the brink of becoming its next failed state.
Chaos and violent madness greeted the arrival of Australian commandos in Dili, walking into a country racked with political, military and ethnic divisions. There are no battle lines here, no rules and no certainty military intervention will calm the violence spiralling out of control for the past month.
Australian Defence officials looked shell-shocked after a crisis briefing on arrival at Dili International Airport on Thursday afternoon. Loyalist soldiers had assaulted police headquarters, killing at least nine and wounding 27 just hours before, with gunfire raking across the heart of the city.
The United Nations, whose compound borders the headquarters, had brokered a deal with defence chief Taur Matan Ruak to disarm the police, but soldiers instead opened fire on the defenceless men being escorted into the UN compound.
Although General Ruak allegedly supports the Australian-led intervention - which was meant to halt the fighting - his troops then launched a major attack against rebel soldiers on Dili's outskirts. Heavy gunfire continued into yesterday morning and more gunfights broke out in town across the day, despite Australian troops patrolling nearby.
Australian officials, led by deputy military chief Ken Gillespie, had to skirt the fringes of the fighting on Thursday night to visit the home of President Xanana Gusmao, then paid separate calls on Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Ruak to finalise the terms of the intervention.
In theory all backed the deployment of more than 1000 Australian troops, but gaping cracks are emerging behind the scenes. Gusmao has taken control of the military, a move Alkatiri claims is unconstitutional. Alkatiri says a conspiracy continues to stage a "constitutional coup" against him.
Like his nation, Gusmao, the hero of Timor's independence struggle, is almost crippled - by a bad back. He had to be half carried by two bodyguards into a meeting on Wednesday with the Australian ambassador and the UN to plea for international intervention. Dili's hospital chief was called in to deliver painkilling injections. Inside, Gusmao exploded before the startled diplomats over the defection of half the police force that morning. "This is your fault," he is believed to have shouted. Some claim the outburst was directed at Alkatiri, others that the police commissioner was the target.
Authorities had lost control, he told the gathering, and only the return of Australian forces could save his country.
The acrimony between Alkatiri, one of those who sought refuge in Mozambique during the independence struggle, and Gusmao, who stayed to fight, is long-standing. It was Gusmao who said Alkatiri erred in sacking 595 striking soldiers, nearly half the army, last month.
Believing they had their President's support, the soldiers staged a demonstration in the capital on April 28. Loyalist troops opened fire, killing at least four people. The shootings prompted the defection of military police commander Alfredo Reinaldo, who took with him about 20 men and many heavy weapons.
Both Reinaldo and Gastao Salsinha - the leader of the original strikers - are charismatic but erratic figures whose goals and grievances are unclear. Salsinha's troops come from the west of Timor, largely younger soldiers resentful of favoured treatment towards the older, veteran independence fighters from the east.
Many gripes are minor; they have been posted across the island without the time or money to visit homes and families. Some claim discrimination, including Salsinha. He was passed over for promotion and a trip to the US after being caught smuggling sandalwood.
The rebel numbers are swelled by those bored by serving in a conventional army with no clear tasks, left to stew in the barracks far away from home.
Reinaldo says he deserted to support and protect "all westerners. Because, on the day, on the 28th, it was easterners who shot westerners. I am witness to that. I do not want to be a part of the (army) that shot westerners".
Alkatiri was behind the "criminal" shooting of civilians at the April 28 demonstration, he says. "Who gave the order? The Prime Minister gave the order."
Reinaldo, whose men were involved in most of the heavy fighting around Dili over the past five days, including a full-scale assault on Ruak's home as Gusmao made his plea for international assistance, claims he is no rebel. "I still respect my institution of the FFDTL (army), so my fellow police officers still respect the institution FFDTL.
"But we are not taking order from any Government member, but we are still bound to the President and (Foreign Minister Jose) Ramos Horta."
Gusmao and Ramos Horta, his key ally, blame Alkatiri for failing to address the emerging crisis within the military. Ramos Horta told The Age the dispute could have been headed off months before if relatively minor grievances and palpable structural problems were addressed. A series of presidential recommendations to reform the force were ignored, they say.
Despite being re-endorsed by the ruling Fretilin Party last week, distrust of Alkatiri, a Muslim leader in a Catholic nation, abounds. His aggressive persona has put many offside, including Canberra during hardball negotiations over dividing the riches of the Timor Sea's gas and oil.
Some believe that Gusmao may soon move to dissolve the Government and sack Alkatiri, using the President's constitutional powers. Rumours persist that he may also remove Ruak.
Suspicions remain over the first confrontation between Ruak's and Reinaldo's men after Government soldiers approached the rebel camp on Tuesday, a battle that scuttled a peace deal being constructed by Horta.
Gusmao was to preside over final negotiations with rebel leaders the next day, aiming to address the soldiers' grievances and proposing a fundamental restructure of the military - devoting troops to either an international peacekeeping task or national civil works.
Instead, a bedridden Gusmao witnessed the total disintegration of law and order as battles between the factions escalated and civilian police joined Reinaldo's men.
With the defection of many civilian police came anarchy on the streets. Gangs, largely made up of easterners carrying machetes, slingshots and spears were out for revenge, attacking properties of westerners they claim supported the rebels.
Heavily armed soldiers sped from outbreak to outbreak, firing wildly to disperse the mobs. The gangs would retreat momentarily, then reform. They burnt down the house of the deputy police commissioner, who had defected to the rebel side.
Also torched was a home belonging to the family of Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato. Six charred bodies were found inside yesterday, including five children. It was "the saddest day in the history of East Timor", said an emotional US ambassador Joseph Rees.
With the body count from the past 48 hours approaching 20 - with rumours of many more - the challenge for Australian forces will be to halt the escalating spirals of revenge. The east/west divide grows with each casualty, splitting the military, police and threatening to spread across the community - gangs were yesterday blockading at least two refugee camps with up to 10,000 people inside.
Ramos Horta - who has been tirelessly travelling across the country, meeting troops and rebels to forge a peace deal- remains hopeful after the Australians' arrival, but admits the seriousness of the challenge. He told The Age yesterday that some army members had distributed military weapons to new easterner militias, in a chilling echo of Indonesia's support for violent, anti-independence militias in 1999. "There have been elements that gave weapons to civilians, in the most irresponsible manner," he says. "This is very dangerous, disarming them is difficult."
An order would be issued that "every single weapon in the hands of individuals must be handed in (to the Australian forces)", he says.
The army had been ordered to return to its barracks and stay there, he says. "That will eliminate one of the sources of the problems."
Ramos Horta concedes Government troops launched attacks on Thursday night, but says "the Australian forces have arrived and these orders are given clearly by commander Ruak and others. I believe they will start pulling back and stop fighting".
The rebel leaders would also be asked to return their troops to their home villages, he says.
"Reinaldo, once we have resumed dialogue, he is ready to surrender his weapons and so are the others."
The emergence of militia groups, along with criminal elements allegedly encouraged by senior Timorese figures who believe they have been disenfranchised by the Alkatiri Government, complicates the picture.
Part of last week's move to unseat Alkatiri came from demoted politicians and crony supporters. There is a battle for the meagre spoils of Timor's economy, beset by the withdrawal of the thousands of people and dollars pumped in under UN administration following the independence vote.
The Government remains the only significant provider and unemployment is rampant. Only the intense gunfire of the past two days removed the hundreds of youths who line Dili's streets pleading to sell newspapers or phone cards to earn a few extra cents. That a minor industrial dispute inside the military threatens to cripple Timor underlines the fragility of the newborn nation and the paucity of its governance structures. Even if the fractured police and military can be united - and that is a big if - any minor crisis could again destabilise the nation.
Insiders say Australia is looking at a long-term commitment, with fears that jockeying for position for upcoming elections, due in under a year, could spark further unrest.
The Australian force must also deal with a cargo cult mentality, locals (who are already calling them Interfet, the name of the post-independence intervention force), believe they will take charge of the nation itself.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is already attempting to dampen expectations. "We would be very cautious about offering advice, particularly in how they resolve the problem with the former soldiers," he says. "They are going to have to work that out themselves. We can create a stable environment there for them so they can start to work these things through, and I have no illusions that it will be actually quite hard to work all this through."
Prime Minister John Howard issued a sterner warning to the leadership, stating there "was no point in beating about the bush".
"The country has not been well-governed and I do hope the sobering experience for those in elected positions of having to call in help from outside will induce the appropriate behaviour inside the country," he said. "They do have responsibilities."
However, the sight of Australian soldiers securing Dili centre yesterday demonstrated on whose shoulders responsibility for staving off a state failure will fall. From the hills overlooking Dili, Reinaldo has vowed not to attack the international troops. "We are happy to shake hands," he told the ABC on Thursday. "Tell the Australian troops, don't forget to bring some VB for us."
The jocular tone was less evident in Dili yesterday, as Reinaldo's men fired down on loyalist forces below.
RISE OF A REBELLION
MARCH 2 600 East Timorese soldiers strike over work conditions.
APRIL 28 Rioting by soldiers from the west leaves two dead, 29 hurt.
APRIL 30 Hundreds of sacked soldiers flee into mountains.
MAY 3 Australia seeks extension of United Nations mandate.
MAY 11 Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says soldiers will talk.
MAY 12 Australia sends 2 warships.
MAY 15 Australian troops arrive to protect Australian interests.
MAY 19 Fretilin party endorses Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
MAY 20 Fourth anniversary of independence.
MAY 22 Peace deal brokered.
MAY 23 Australian troops on standby as fighting erupts again.
MAY 24 The fledgling nation's leaders call for assistance.
MAY 25 More than 1000 Australian troops begin arriving in Dili as part of a military-led intervention.
MAY 26 Evacuations to Australia of expats, East Timorese, Canadians, Indonesians, a New Zealander and a Portuguese begin as heavy fighting around Dili is reported.
The Courier-Mail (Queensland) Saturday, May 27, 2006
Broken promises fuel fury
Ian McPhedran and Anna Reynolds
The outbreak of violence in East Timor has been building for some time. Ian McPhedran and Anna Reynolds report
THE disappointment is thick in the air as the sound of gunfire rebounds around the streets of Dili. The chaos and disorder as thousands flee their homes amid the sporadic fighting is the immediate concern of government officials, Australian troops and the residents of Dili.
But for 35-year-old Rosa Garcia, mother, worker and believer, it's the dashed promise that hurts most.
"Independence was our long-held dream," she says as she again contemplates a fractured future for herself and her family. "We want to build something and now we are already destroying it."
Garcia is typical of many in Dili. Hardworking, intelligent and aspirational, she and her family were forced to flee to West Timor when the Indonesian military rampaged through the country after the vote for democracy in 1999.
Thousands were killed as again Australian forces joined with the United Nations to restore order. Then, she understood that the massive and pointless loss of life, damage to property and widespread destruction was because of the Indonesians.
This time, however, the violence is home-grown.
The promise and hope invested in her people and their new society has crumbled, as East Timorese turn to violence against their fellow citizens.
Garcia's distress is coupled with deep disillusionment. She blames the country's new political leaders for the breakdown in law and order, and the severe setback for the fledgling nation which comes with it.
Happy that the troops are here, she wants nothing more than a normal chance in life.
Judging by the joyous reception the advance party of Australian troops received as they arrived at Comoro airport by Hercules aircraft late on Wednesday, this young wife and mother is not alone.
The dirt-poor East Timorese people are sick and tired of violence and destruction. How much anarchy can one tiny country bear?
"We have been scared for six weeks," says 25-year-old Brazilian missionary Elieinae Moura, as police gunmen blaze away on his street.
"We have two policemen staying with us. They are very scared -- they are the targets."
That fear was in the eyes of the other policemen rampaging through the neighbourhood, some wearing masks that invoked memories of militia mobs in 1999, firing into the air or nervously stroking their triggers.
The historical legacy of our small northern neighbour, posturing for power among the police and armed forces and failures in government to deliver basic services, have combined to result in both organised rebellion and spontaneous violent outbreaks around the capital, Dili.
The rebel soldiers, sacked in February after complaining about pay and conditions, have been ordered to disarm. Under the rules of engagement signed off late on Thursday, Australia has now been given responsibility for security.
The Government through Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta has called on all East Timorese who are not members of the armed forces or the national police to surrender their guns to Australian forces.
"Whoever does not surrender their weapons to the Australian troops will be sought and arrested.
"This order becomes valid today (Friday)," he said.
The Australians are expected to play a major role in disarming the rebels, with the remainder of the East Timor security services and police ordered back to their barracks.
But how the armed forces respond will largely determine how the conflict will play out.
In one of the poorest countries in Asia with high youth unemployment, a job in the armed forces is prized as economic security.
Most of the officers and older veterans in the armed forces are from the eastern town of Baucau, home to the country's main military base, while the rebels, mostly younger soldiers, come from the districts in the western part of the country. There have been reports that more soldiers defected during the week.
Warren Wright, who worked in East Timor for five years for the UN Department of Justice, The Asia Foundation and the University of San Francisco School of Law based in Dili, says the rebels' grievances do have substance, although talk of an "ethnic" divide is not strictly accurate.
"This is not so much to do with any perceived ethnicity of the conflicting parties but is a reflection of perceived loyalties coming down to the present from the Indonesian era," he said.
According to Wright, the East Timorese police force was recruited by UNTAET from officers who had been members of the Indonesian police during occupation.
The defence forces, however, were made up of former guerillas who were fighting the Indonesians.
"It should have been foreseen that this circumstance would inevitably arise," he said.
"Timorese who were members of the Indonesian police were tainted by the brutality, corruption and repression by the Indonesian police force during the occupation. There was a perception that they were traitors to the independence struggle that was being waged by those who now comprise the Defence Force."
He also says there have been reports of beatings and payback attacks between the two forces before.
Wright is critical of the East Timorese Government's failure to respond more quickly to the soldiers' concerns. "The Government and the Presidency failed to take appropriate heed of the soldiers' grievances, acted too late in setting up the commission of inquiry, failed to prevent the security forces firing into the crowds during the protests at the end of April and generally handled the problem incompetently," he said.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping, believes police are now defecting to the rebel army side.
He says that much of the fighting in Dili has been between members of the Timorese armed forces and its national police.
The police force was reported to be in "total disarray" due to growing tensions between east and west, with both soldiers and police splitting from the Government to join rebel factions, Guehenno said in a briefing to the UN Security Council.
Another UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said two UN police advisers were among those injured in the shootout between soldiers and police. The two were part of efforts by UN staff to end an hour-long attack by soldiers on the national police headquarters in Dili.
The UN police and military advisers had negotiated a ceasefire with the Timorese soldiers, under which the police officers were to surrender their weapons and leave the building, Dujarric said.
"As the unarmed police were being escorted out, army soldiers opened fire on them, killing nine and wounding 27 others, including two UN police advisers," he said.
Guehenno said the shooting apparently was triggered when the police officers left the building, saw the soldiers and "became nervous and started to hurry".
"What I understand, in the very tense situation . . . there was some movement, then soldiers apparently opened fire and that's when the police officers were killed," Guehenno said.
Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday the Australian troops would secure the city of Dili before moving to other districts as required.
Building national unity has been constantly hampered during East Timor's short life as an independent country, says Charles Sampford, director of the Institute of Ethics, Government and Law at Griffith University.
"If there are other sources of dissatisfaction, it will exaggerate feelings of inter-regional differences. They are not fundamental divisions, but a sense of unity and ownership may be limited," he says.
Sampford says widespread poverty is exacerbating the instability -- and a a disunited government has not helped. If Rosa Garcia and others like her are looking to apportion blame, many feel it must lie with the Prime MInister, Alkatiri. The former exile who spent the Indonesian years in Mozambique and Portugal is considered to have failed to get East Timor's governance structures working effectively. His inability to deal with dissent has made him unpopular both with the population and with other members of his Government.
Australian troops will be in East Timor for a much longer haul this time. As their comrades in the Solomons dig in for a lengthy deployment, those coming ashore in Dili yesterday were the vanguard of a long-term commitment.
As the Australian Government's latest military envoy, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie (already referred to as the new Cosgrove) and his team struggled late on Thursday to complete the ground rules, the violence in Dili reached new highs.
For President Gusmao, the most immediate task is to unite his divided people. Already locals have expressed anger at his lack of leadership in their time of need.
Without his strength the road ahead will be much more fraught.
The Australian Saturday, May 27, 2006
Whither East Timor?
Challenge to sustain peace on our doorstep is long-term
WITH about 1600 soldiers and police pouring into Dili from Australia and Malaysia and 160 more on the way from New Zealand and Portugal, restoring order in East Timor will be the easy part. When all are in place, the international troops will total nearly 1800, easily outnumbering East Timor's forces and three times the size of the rebel army led by Major Alfredo Reinado. After a six-year commitment as UN peacekeepers in the tiny nation, Australian troops are well-acquainted with its geography and people. And despite warnings from some quarters that tense negotiations with Canberra over the Timor Basin oil and gas revenue had soured Australia's reputation in the country, East Timorese have welcomed the Diggers to Dili. President Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta have agreed to terms of engagement for Australia's troops that will allow them to use force if they are threatened. And notwithstanding John Howard's assertion that the situation is dangerous as it indisputably is and Australian casualties are a po possibility, the 600-strong band of rebel soldiers lack both the firepower and broader backing from the East Timorese to hold out in a sustained battle with the international contingent.
In the first instance, the international troops must both force the two warring military factions to retreat to separate barracks outside Dili and disarm the rebels, the only moves that will allow security to be restored to the streets. Fierce fighting between government and rebel soldiers continued around Dili yesterday, and the death toll took a tragic leap when the bodies of a mother and her five children were found in a torched house in the capital. The next step is to prepare the way for an independent mediator to forge a resolution between the two armies that will ease ethnic tensions and stave off East Timor's descent into civil war. The best outcome would be one that sees any of the rebel soldiers prepared to renew their loyalty to the Government restored to their army units. Achieving sustained peace is not going to be easy. The political situation in Dili had deteriorated yesterday to the point where Mr Alkatiri's Government appeared on the verge of collapse. Mr Gusmao was reported as saying he had lost confidence in his Prime Minister and the two were at loggerheads over who was in charge of East Timor's defence forces. Supporting Mr Alkatiri's flailing Government is not an attractive option for Canberra, but there would appear to be little choice. Mr Howard's retrospective assessment that East Timor gained its independence too early and that it has been governed poorly may be accurate, but is not especially helpful in the present fragile situation.
This newspaper has been among critics of the Alkatiri administration who have pointed out the rise of widespread corruption and poor discipline within its police force, accompanied by claims of human rights abuses of detainees. Although in name a democracy, East Timor is governed as a de facto one-party state. Mr Alkatiri threw off a challenge to his dual post as secretary-general of Fretilin and Prime Minister only last week from the country's ambassador to the UN, Jose Guterres. With a soaring birth rate, high illiteracy, low life expectancy, massive unemployment and dependence on foreign aid for its existence, the present unrest threatens to push East Timor over the edge into the ranks of failed states. This is not something Australia can afford. Canberra faces a long-term, Solomons-style commitment to East Timor if a dangerous slide into instability on our doorstep is to be avoided. As with Solomon Islands, the bloodshed in East Timor underscores that independence is just the first step to nationhood. The long-term scenario would appear to demand a series of Australian garrisons stretching across an unstable Asia-Pacific. Once stability is restored in Dili, Australia's first priority must be maintaining the peace. Next must come institution-building, and convincing East Timorese's security forces that the negotiating table, not the battlefield, is the place for resolving disputes.
------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service