Subject: AGE: Warnings of Timor violence ignored

Also Age Comment: How complacency crippled a nation; Age: Past fault lines lead to a fractured present

Warnings of Timor violence ignored

By Tom Hyland May 28, 2006

THE UN, Australia and the East Timorese Government had multiple warnings of the looming internal security crisis that has plunged Dili into violent chaos.

The UN was warned two months ago that East Timor's defence force, set up with Australian aid and training to protect the tiny nation from foreign attack, was a potential threat to the country's internal stability.

The Sunday Age can reveal East Timor's Government ignored repeated urgings over the past two years from Australian and other foreign advisers to address flaws in its army.

Government and military leaders in Dili shelved reports calling for reforms that may have prevented the violence and the dispatch of Australian troops.

Details of the reports were sent to Canberra, which played a central role in training East Timor's security forces, spending $70 million on "capacity building" in the police and army. The money made up the largest share of Australian aid.

Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday he had watched the deteriorating situation "for some months" and the violence "has come as no great surprise". But he said Australia could not have intervened until it was invited by the Dili Government.

Australian efforts to resolve the issue before it reached crisis point appear to have been left to the Australian ambassador in Dili, Margaret Twomey. A Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman said Ms Twomey had discussed the issue with the East Timorese Government "on a number of occasions and urged that the issues be addressed appropriately".

Analysts with knowledge of East Timor's Government and military said the violence stemmed from a mix of divisions forged in the independence struggle over 24 years, and the UN's failure to develop a proper defence force during its 1999-2002 administration. Instead, East Timor was left with an army with no clear role, united only in its resentment of the national police.

Ultimate responsibility for the violence rested with key Government and military figures who were warned of trouble but failed to act, according to the analysts, who asked not to be identified.

The warning that the East Timorese army was a potential threat to stability was contained in a report to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in March. It was written by Edward Rees, a New York-based consultant to the UN on security issues, who has worked for the UN in Kosovo and East Timor.

The report said the UN made "critical mistakes" in its handling of the Falintil guerillas, who resisted Indonesian rule from 1975 until 1999 and had sought a major role in the new army, known by the acronym Falintil-FDTL.

The report said the UN failed to create a proper Ministry of Defence, in part because donor countries were reluctant to fund a potentially politicised defence force that lacked civilian control and a clear defence policy.

"Some argue that the defence force may even pose a threat to internal security," the report said.

The analysts interviewed by The Sunday Age said East Timor's Defence Minister, Roque Rodrigues, failed to act on reports from Australian and other advisers about problems in Falintil-FDTL and blocked action on reports urging efforts to tackle morale and wider issues of defence management.

According to one analyst, Mr Rodrigues told a foreign adviser: "Why do you keep pestering me about these things?"

"He basically told the Australians to f--- off," another analyst said.

Also Age Comment: How complacency crippled a nation


The Sunday Age May 28, 2006

Past fault lines lead to a fractured present

By Tom Hyland

photo: Brutal history: a 1999 picture of the remains of a man said to have been murdered by militiamen during East Timor's struggle for independence. -- Jason South

A SENIOR officer in East Timor's army was once asked what was the greatest threat to his country's security. The reply from the officer, a 24-year veteran of the guerilla resistance to Indonesian rule, was simple and unequivocal: "The police."

His response illuminated just one fault line amid the multiple fissures that have now fractured East Timor's efforts to build a nation from the ashes left by Indonesia.

The exchange is recounted in a report by international security consultant Edward Rees for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations in March. It warned that East Timor's poorly managed and undisciplined army, far from being able to defend the country, could emerge as a threat to its internal security.

In light of the fratricidal violence that has erupted in Dili, the warning was prescient. But Mr Rees was not the only voice sounding the alarm.

In 2002, a report by the Government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute said the Dili Government was unable to overcome internal security problems. It warned: "Australia may be underestimating the overall scale of the effort required to protect Australia's strategic interests in East Timor."

And for the past two years, frustrated Australian advisers have been urging East Timor's political and military leaders to act on grievances of disgruntled troops, to reform management of the military and to draft coherent defence policies. Their advice went unheeded. So what has gone wrong?

The answers lie in three decades of complex, turbulent and violent history that left enduring and bitter divisions in a society torn apart during the Indonesian occupation.

As UN consultant Mr Rees put it in a paper to a Geneva conference in 2004, East Timor's defence force, like any other, mirrors the history of its society. East Timor's army, Mr Rees said, "is an expression of a society that has experienced a series of traumatic and disenfranchising events".

Some in the independence struggle had hoped that when East Timor won its freedom, it would not need an army. Jose Ramos Horta said as much when he accepted the Nobel peace prize in 1996.

But 1999 changed all that. The destruction of the country by the departing Indonesians convinced East Timor's leaders that they needed a force to counter militia groups. There was also the question of what to do with potentially disaffected the tactics of Australia's military leadership.

"Three days ago, the rebels were attacking here. The civilian police fled, and so did the military. But when they retracted, the Australians did not take their place. Instead, they visited the President and the Prime Minister and said 'keep your military, keep your police in the barracks'.

"But they have not been here on the street. Now you can see the consequences."

For all the endeavour and restraint of Delta company, trust in the Australians, at least in this violent corner of Dili, has evaporated. But in Canberra, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ken Gillespie, said Australian troops had relieved tension across several parts of the capital. Australians had been talking to all other key players and had clear agreements for them to work with Australian troops to end the violence.

"Through the day we will be moving out into some of those areas where there has been confrontation, checkpoints manned by different factions, and we will relieve the tensions in those areas," he said. "We have taken steps to secure the police headquarters, we have taken steps to secure the government buildings so the Government can go about its business free from the thought of attack."

General Gillespie said about 1800 troops and support staff were converging on Dili to broker a peace deal between dissatisfied sections of the East Timorese army and police force.

He said the final elements of the Australian contingent, including 1300 troops, three navy ships and armoured vehicles, were expected to be in East Timor by early this morning, adding that he believed Australia had come up with a solution everyone could accept.

"It will be an acknowledgement by all parties that the first thing that needs to happen is disengagement," General Gillespie said.

"It means that the military returns to its barracks. It means that the police return to their barracks and it means that each of the disaffected groups who are part of this problem remove themselves to cantonments."

He said he was not aware that Australian soldiers had fired any shots or been fired upon. -- with Jason Koutsoukis


The Sunday Age May 28, 2006


How complacency crippled a nation

By Tom Hyland

THE crisis in East Timor amounts to multiple spectacular failures — by East Timor's leaders, by the United Nations and by Australia.

Primary responsibility lies with East Timor's complacent political and military leaders, few of whom emerge from this with any credit, even allowing for their massive task in rebuilding a nation and society ripped apart by a savage Indonesian occupation.

They failed to deal with the grievances of soldiers whose desertion in February sparked the crisis, and they lacked the will and capacity to define a role for their army.

As the crisis developed, President Xanana Gusmao has seemed diffident and disengaged, emotionally and physically immobilised in his compound in the cool hills above sweltering Dili.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has been provocative and inflexible, indifferent to soldiers' complaints and blind to the security crisis created by the desertions. Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues has been fatally incompetent, ignoring advice that could have prevented disaster.

And Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato has been intent on intrigue, exploiting disaffection and dissent while seeking to mould the national police as a personal fiefdom.

Efforts to negotiate with army factions have been left largely to Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta. But he, too, failed to realise the extent of the crisis. Just two weeks ago, ruling out the need for outside intervention, he told me: "We can resolve this on our own. We must." He should shelve his ambition to be the next UN Secretary-General. His country needs him.

FOR the UN, this is the collapse of its showcase success in creating a nation from ruins. In particular, the UN's creation of a new East Timorese army was based on flawed compromises. On East Timor, the UN is influenced by governments in key capitals — above all, Canberra. Australia had prime responsibility for developing East Timor's security forces. We've juggled competing interests in a $70 million "capacity building" aid program for the army and police.

Our overriding interest has been not East Timor, but Indonesia, so we didn't want the army to patrol the border with Indonesia in case it provoked the Indonesian Army. And we didn't want the army to play an internal security role, either, so it was left to sulk in its barracks.

We can't say we weren't warned. A 2002 report by Australian Strategic Policy Institute predicted with prophetic understatement that East Timor's defence force "may develop in ways we do not like".

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