Subject: ABC: James Dunn on Was East Timor ready for independence?

Also The East Timor Crisis: A Quest of Legitimacy?; The World Today - Former UN official blames peacekeeper pull-out for East Timor breakdown; A former UN legal advisor writes: East Timor's out-of-touch government


Was East Timor ready for independence?

James Dunn, former Australian consul to East Timor - 29/05/2006

In East Timor killings, gun fights and increasing anarchy in the streets of Dili has seen Australian troops return only two years after they left.

Not waiting for rules of engagement, the Australians were rushed into the country to prevent more deaths as what began as an Army dispute about pay and conditions spiralled to the brink of civil war.

The cry for help was triggered by weeks of increasing violence after a protest by nearly 600 disgruntled soldiers turned deadly.

While the armed intervention will stabilise the country, it has raised questions about East Timor's political leadership just four years after the euphoria of independence.

Someone who's well versed with East Timor's brutal past is James Dunn. He was an adviser to the United Nations Mission in East Timor in 1999. He's also a UN expert on crimes against humanity, having worked as an investigator for the UN's transitional administration in East Timor.

Now, this isn't really a military dispute on pay and promotions anymore, is it? It's an attempted coup d'etat, is it not?

Well, it has moved into a new phase, where it is clear that one section of the military, led by Major Alfredo Reinaldo, is moving to unseat a government he doesn't like very much.

But it did escalate, didn't it, when Prime Minister Alkatiri survived the challenge to his leadership. I mean, he is a man who's said to be very unpopular, not on speaking terms with the President. You know him. What sort of a man is he?

He's somewhat different from other Timorese leaders. Not only because he's a Muslim. I think that's a remarkable fact, that he is a leader of East Timor, Christian country, as a Muslim. Although he's an efficient worker, probably a good bureaucrat, I've never felt that he was an easy person to deal with, an easy politician ...

Why not?

... a politician who had close relations with the people. I guess it's his style.

Is there a danger, are you fearful that, perhaps, anti-Independence forces in the West or in the Western part might exploit this situation?

Well, I think that is a danger, not so much from Indonesia as from a few remnants of the militia. And we mustn't forget that one of the most powerful militia leaders, Joao Tavares, is still over there in Western Timor, occasionally talking about the possibility of returning to the East. And in 1999, he was the leading militia leader. And that's why, in that area, it was in that area that, I suppose, not only most of the militia were recruited but where they were more enthusiastic for continuing with Indonesia, and also where they were more brutal.

Well, James Dunn, how far back should have some of these problems been addressed? Because when you were advising the UN Mission in 1999, you had some concerns about the Western sector, didn't you?

It has been so badly affected because it was the last, it was close to Indonesia, in terms of destruction, the destruction in towns like Maliana, Balibo and so on, was massive. Whereas, in the East, the destruction wasn't as serious. But I think my concerns were more, in relation to this matter, on two grounds. I think one was about the pace of change. And, indeed, the ambitions of the UN Mission to transform the East Timorese from the ashes of November 1999 to independence in 2002. I mean, it was a remarkable achievement, it seemed, but I felt it was so quick that so many aspects hadn't been properly dealt with. One, of course, was the military, in my view. It was only a year before independence that the training of the military got under way. But, you know, the position of the military in a new country is also, is always of crucial importance, because it can be a source of unrest, of instability. And I don't think that the development of the military took that into account.

So what do you do now? Do you sort of revisit those institutions and start again and do what should have been done back in 1999?

Well, you can't start again. We have to deal with the situation as it is. When the UN Mission ended, there was a proposal, which Kofi Annan himself took up, to keep a peace keeping element in East Timor. I'm afraid we lost that. Australia and the United States voted against it. And, of course, they didn't do it.

So you're saying we should take some of the blame?

Well, in a sense, a bit of it because had there been a small peacekeeping element mostly of civilian police, but some troops, there would have been this independent force to move quickly into these areas.

Why did Australia vote against it?

Well, you'd have to ask the Australian government. But I think many people felt they wanted to get Australians out of East Timor. There was some suggestion the Indonesians didn't like their presence there. But, nevertheless, in my view, it was too hasty. They should have stayed there.

Could this damage relations with Indonesia, the fact that we are leading this?

It is sensitive, but so far there hasn't been any official condemnation or negative criticism of it. But, you know, what's important is looking to the future, rather than have what some might see as a provocative, large Australian military presence in East Timor. I think the important step is to get it under a UN umbrella.

So, would you urge that it comes under a United Nations umbrella as soon as is possible?

I would like to see that. Yes, I think that's very important. I mean, what's important about Timor is that it was the great achievement of the United Nations. The one case where the UN went in, actually took over a country and took it from the ashes of destruction to independence. And, of course, from the UN's point of view, that shouldn't fail.

James Dunn, former Australian consul to East Timor

James Dunn, is the former Australian consul to East Timor. He was an adviser to the United Nations Mission in East Timor in 1999. He's also a UN expert on crimes against humanity, having worked as an investigator for the UN's transitional administration in East Timor.

This Viewpoint is an edited version of Helen Vatsikopolous' interview with Mr Dunn, first broadcast on Asia Pacific Focus on May 26, 2006. ---

The East Timor Crisis: A Quest of Legitimacy? James Dunn

East Timorís descent into violence and anarchy, and towards civil war, chaos came as a shock, including to this columnist who has been involved in the affairs of this community for more than 4 decades, especially their ordeal during Indonesiaís harsh occupation. It was deeply disappointing that a people who had endured so much in the recent past quarter of a century could countenance the violence that took place last week. It has led to insinuations, notably by Australian journalist Paul Kelly, that Australia should not have supported East Timorese moves along the path to independence in 1999. Timor Leste was now clearly a failed state whose people did not deserve independent nationhood. The territory, by inference, should therefore have remained under Indonesian control.

That shallow view should be dismissed. Timorís problems are common to nations whose independence was achieved through armed resistance. Indonesia endured this kind of instability for more than a decade, and similar problems have persisted in Papua New Guinea. In East Timorís case, it was the harsh Indonesian occupation, and not the UN intervention or the failings of national independence that must bear most blame for todayís crisis. The east-west hostility is without historical foundation. In fact it flows from Indonesian occupation policy, in particular the special attention devoted by the occupying power to those adjacent to West Timor.

The democratic system developed system under UNTAETís tutelage, in which this columnist played a part, was, it must now be admitted, immature When independence came East Timor looked democratic, but the system had shallow roots. The East Timorese evidently welcomed the aims of democracy without fully understanding its political complexities, its frailties in adverse economic conditions like those endured by independent Timor Leste. We gave insufficient attention to factors that were bound to threaten the functioning of democracy ≠ the impact on a weak economy of the diminished foreign presence, with the reduction of the UN mission; the failure to establish a disciplined defence force unswerving in its loyalty to civilian rule. Then there is the time bomb character of continued massive unemployment, and the related urgent need for the new state to develop its fragile economy (those protracted Timor Gap negotiations were particularly unhelpful).

East Timor did have seasoned political leaders but some of them have let their people down. They impressed the international community, according the new nation an importance beyond its size, but recent events suggest that their international successes were not matched by achievements at home. Now is the time for a close scrutiny of the performance of East Timorís political institutions.

While Australiaís response to the present crisis was commendably prompt, we need to reflect on past failings on our part, which may have contributed to the problem. Australia was among those nations who wanted the UNTAET mandate to end quickly, not least because of its cost, and it really ended too quickly. Australia was a major contributor to the training of the defence force, a sensitive process that began less than a year before independence, and apparently was less than successful, too little attention being given to persuading the military of the essential importance of accepting the severe constraints democracy places on the behaviour of armed forces.

The immediate causes of the dissent behind the dispute over promotion policies and other matters are clear enough ≠ even understandable - but what is alarming is how the situation degenerated from a noisy protest to armed clashes between troops and police, the two essential arms of national security. With the police virtually immobilized, the situation in Dili became a scene of anarchic violence, with criminal gangs being joined by the hundreds of disaffected unemployed. It is a story of how a weak government response to a dangerous liaison involving rebellious troops, opportunistic crime gangs and disillusioned unemployed, allowed the triggering of a wave of violence that resulted in the collapse of public order, threatening the disintegration of the nation, even though the violence was more or less confined to the capital. Those of us who worked with the UN should have done more to prepare the system to deal with such a contingency.

Because of our past support for Indonesiaís illegal takeover, and its subsequent occupation, it is appropriate that Australia should now play a leading role in helping the new nation get back on its feet, and heal the wounds of last weekís violence. But our role should bear the legitimacy of a UN mandate. The presence of our troops, together with contingents of New Zealanders, Portuguese, and Malaysians has already done much to calm the situation in the capital, where the problem is most acute. But that calm will not endure if this peace-making presence is not accompanied by strong and united Timorese leadership.

As it turns out, the nation could be facing a divisive political crisis, some strains having developed in the relationship between President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. That crisis needs to be resolved quickly with, preferably, the forming a government of national unity that will restore the bonds of unity that have been fractured in recent weeks.

As I understand it, Kofi Annan, and the Security Council have agreed to the sending of a stronger mission to Timor Leste. That mission, in which I assume Australia will play a key role, should be empowered to strengthen those national institutions that failed the East Timorese in recent weeks. The political leaders of Timor Leste have to confront their failures, in the face of their responsibility to guide their people through these first difficult years of nationhood, if crises of this nature are not again to threaten the new nation with disintegration. Despite the worrying events of the past few weeks, the legitimacy of East Timorís nationhood is not in question, as some have suggested. Creating a nation out of the ashes of 1999 was a massive challenge both to the international community and inexperienced East Timorese political leaders. In the circumstances this setback calls for something special on our part - our understanding, and our renewed commitment to support the fulfillment of the national destiny of a people with whom we have formed a special relationship.


ABC Online

The World Today - Former UN official blames peacekeeper pull-out for East Timor breakdown

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Monday, 29 May , 2006 12:26:00

Reporter: Edmond Roy

ELEANOR HALL: A key former United Nations official in East Timor says the decision by the international community to remove the UN peacekeeping force from East Timor last year, was the wrong one and is in part to blame for the flare-up of violence in the country.

Australia was among those nations which argued for the dismantling of the peacekeeping force, arguing that it was time for East Timor to run its own affairs.

But Edmond Roy reports that that decision is now being described by critics as "pennywise but pound foolish".

EDMOND ROY: In February last year, the United Nations formally dismantled the UN Mission of Support in East Timor and put in its place a one year political mission called the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste.

The reasons for this development were in part because the UN had decided that the Government of Timor-Leste had achieved peace and stability in the country.

The UN also commended the nation's leaders for their continuing efforts towards consolidating democracy and strengthening state institutions.

As a result, the small peacekeeping force that existed was dismantled and the UN had in its place 45 civilian advisers, 40 police advisers, 10 military advisers and a further 10 human rights officers.

None of these people were given any weapons and the responsibility for security was given to the East Timor Army and the local police force.

The UN's decision to pull out its armed mission came after some strong arguments from Australia.

Last week's explosion in violence has thrown the spotlight on those arguments and whether or not Australia and the international community got it wrong.

Peter Galbraith was director for political, constitutional and electoral affairs for the United Nations transitional administration in East Timor in 2001.

PETER GALBRAITH: I had grave misgivings about the departure of UN peacekeepers. The truth is by the end the peacekeeping mission was very small, it was inexpensive, it was providing stability to a country in which Australia and other members of the international community had invested heavily.

And it seemed to be to be really pennywise and pound foolish to terminate the mission early. It's a very small price to pay as compared to what happens if the country deteriorates and you have to send in large numbers of troops.

EDMOND ROY: I suppose the Australian argument was that it was time to move on, it was time for East Timor to stand on its own feet?

PETER GALBRAITH: East Timor is mostly standing on its own feet. But the extra assurance that comes from professional troops from a country in which the East Timorese have a lot of confidence, I think that is a very important ingredient for stability.

These kinds of small peacekeeping missions can make a lot of sense.

The peacekeeping missions have continued in Bosnia for 11 years after the war, but where it was 60,000 in 1995, it's something like 6,000 today. Again, a small investment in maintaining a peace after a totally dreadful war.

EDMOND ROY: But Prime Minister John Howard disagreed, arguing that East Timor needed good governance, not outside interference.

JOHN HOWARD: The fundamental problem in East Timor is the country has not been well governed, and as General Cosgrove pointed out in an interview with Fran Kelly on Radio National this morning, the circumstances now are very different from what they were in 1999.

In 1999 there was united national euphoria about achieving independence. Now the division between east and west and the lack of a political capacity to handle it has caused the problem, and in the end the people of East Timor have got to solve the problem, because East Timor is an independent country.

Now, we have done exactly the right thing with East Timor. We helped East Timor secure her independence in 1999, led that operation and did it very effectively. We stayed for a long period of time as part of a United Nations force, and then the United Nations decided it was time to let them run their own show.

EDMOND ROY: But that UN decision was taken in part because of Australia's insistence that East Timor was ready to stand on its own, and that no country could hope for a helping hand indefinitely.

For Peter Galbraith, though, East Timor may require just that.

PETER GALBRAITH: Frankly, I think an indefinite stay by a small peacekeeping force is going to be less costly to the international community than having to reintervene, and much less costly to Australia, which is going to be the logical destination for East Timorese who will be... if they have to flee a country that is chaotic.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Peter Galbraith a former director of political affairs at the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, speaking to Edmond Roy.


East Timor's out-of-touch government

A former UN legal advisor in East Timor writes:

Date: 29 May 2006

Much has been written in recent days about the complex army/police/political divisions in East Timor. But there are other reasons for the recent violence in East Timor which are not being addressed. These speak of a government which has consistently failed to appreciate the needs of the people. Remote, imperious and at times almost embarrassingly out of touch, it has walked the state to this point and now conveniently is waiting for others to enter and clean up the mess.

Simple reason first. Approximately 96% of young adult Timorese males are unemployed. In Timor, disaffected youths hang about on virtually every street corner. During 2004-2005 numerous incidents of "gang warfare" occurred, centring on the activities of so called martial arts groups where young men flocked for want of anything better to do. The government was conspicuous in its absence of any commentary in relation to the security risk that this situation posed. The Minister for the Interior, Rogerio Labato, stated that all those who demonstrated should be viewed as criminals and if necessary shot on sight.

More complex reasons look at police impunity, increasing government authoritarianism, the erosion of civil liberties such as the right to protest and increasing allegations of police brutality, to name just a few of the live issues in East Timor.

The essential collapse of the justice system and the decision to make Portuguese the official language are inextricably linked. The implications of the decision on the part of the then provisional government were not initially fully grasped. Aside from the distance it created between Timor and its Australian neighbours, it effectively created a two-tier society: 87% who could not speak Portuguese were effectively excluded from government while the remaining 13% (US Department of State figures, September 2005) representing the remains of the colonial elite and the diaspora who now held almost complete control.

It seems the scale of the language problem was not fully understood. An expensive and disastrous UN-sponsored justice program sent potential judicial candidates to Portugal for training, where their hosts were surprised that none spoke Portuguese. Subsequently, the Supreme Court was staffed with Portuguese nationals and Portuguese-speaking jurists from the Timorese diaspora. Local jurists were allowed to practise law while completing a three-year course in law and language. Almost immediately, tensions emerged between Timorese jurists and their Portuguese counterparts, due to the international staff's perceived arrogance and disregard of the law of the land. To make matters worse, trainee jurists had to sit a qualifying examination despite effectively studying part time. Inevitably, all those who sat the examination failed, and were subsequently dismissed from practising law and forced to re-take the three-year course. Since then Timorese involvement in the judicial process has dropped to negligible levels, removing justice from national jurists and removing credibility in the eyes of the general population.

The quality of justice dispensed cannot be said to have improved either. Disturbing allegations of police rape and torture seem to have been presented to the courts and then simply removed from the docket ≠ neither prosecutors nor judges seem to have been willing to act. While the UN could be blamed for the current situation, its operations are directed by the will of its membership and that of the national host government. This bind has led to the abandonment of the Serious Crimes Process against the will of the Timorese people but in line with the will of the government. It has also created a court system divorced both from the rule of law and the participation of the people of East Timor, but firmly entrenching the emerging elite. The results can now be seen on the streets of Dili.

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