|Subject: East Timor Election Reports by The
Australian; SCMP; Irish Times
- Calm as police, troops prepare to secure ETimor vote
- SCMP/East Timor: Politics and poverty
- Australian: Ramos Horta calls on powerful friends
- Irish Times: Is there hope for East Timor?
Calm as police, troops prepare to secure ETimor vote
DILI, April 7 (AFP) -- East Timor was calm Saturday as thousands of United Nations and local police, backed up by international peacekeeping troops, prepared to secure Monday's presidential election after clashes last week between supporters of rival candidates.
"Everything is calm and peaceful. There have been no major incidents," United Nations police spokeswoman Monica Rodrigues said.
At least 32 people were injured in election-related clashes Wednesday in and around Dili, although most of the two-week presidential campaign was peaceful, the UN said.
Eight candidates, including Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, are vying to replace President Xanana Gusmao, who is not seeking re-election.
There would be a tightening of security in the lead-up to the vote, Finn Reske-Nielsen, deputy head of the UN mission, told reporters on Thursday.
Security is "a primary concern," he said.
Atul Khare, who heads the UN mission, said the 1,655 international police and about 2,800 local officers are supported by close to 1,000 troops from an Australian-led international peacekeeping force.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday called on all parties in East Timor to make the country's first presidential election since independence in 2002 a free and fair one.
"I hope they will be unmarred by violence and intimidation, and I hope they will lead to results accepted by all," Ban said in a message broadcast on local radio.
"The eyes of the world are upon you. I call on all candidates and their supporters to accept the results in a peaceful manner."
The Australian-led force was dispatched after unrest in May last year that killed at least 37 people and forced more than 150,000 to flee their homes. About 37,000 people are still displaced in Dili, the capital.
East Timor, formally known as Timor-Leste, gained independence after a period of UN stewardship that followed 24 years of occupation by neighbouring Indonesia.
South China Morning Post Saturday, April 7, 2007
Politics and poverty
Hopes rest firmly on East Timor's first post-independence elections to restore stability to a country riven by despair and lawlessness, writes Fabio Scarpello
Fiery campaigner Ceu Lopes, 50, was active during her fledgling nation's 24-year struggle against the occupation by Indonesia. From Australia, where she has lived since 1985, the founder of the NGO Timor Aid, campaigned tirelessly, raised funds and often travelled covertly to the jungles of her native island, where she met guerilla fighters, sharing their fears and hopes for a better future.
Yet, almost eight years after the 1999 referendum that ended the Indonesian occupation and five years after the declaration of independence, most of those hopes remain unfulfilled. "I am utterly disappointed with the current situation," Mrs Lopes said.
In April and May last year, the country was rocked by violence. Nearly 40 people were killed and 150,000 forced to flee their homes as the national army and police disintegrated. A change in government and deployment of foreign peacekeepers brought a veneer of security, but ongoing violence means nearly 70,000 people are still too afraid to return home.
It is generally acknowledged that the violence sprung from scars left by the trauma of Indonesia's occupation. More than 200,000 people died during the occupation, tainted by widespread abuses.
Moreover, most observers agree that the UN's hasty departure and Australia's foreign policy have been two aggravating factors. The UN administered East Timor between 1999 and 2002, but left while the country's institutions were still weak. Australia's refusal to abide by international law in regards to disputed gas and oil fields has deprived the tiny state of much-needed income at a crucial time.
Mitigating factors aside, most of the blame falls on the Timorese leadership. "Our leaders proved to be incompetent and arrogant," said Mrs Lopes, who knows most of them personally. "Throughout the years they have been more concerned about strengthening their power than working for the good of the country."
The leading characters in East Timor's politics are President Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister José Ramos Horta and former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who is also the leader of Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), the country's largest political party.
The same leaders are now getting ready to contest the country's first post-independence elections, which will start with a presidential vote on Monday that will be monitored by more than 2,000 national and international election observers. A parliamentary election is due shortly after.
In a plot aimed at sidelining Mr Alkatiri, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mr Ramos Horta and former resistance leader Mr Gusmão are seeking to swap places. They have a good chance of success.
"I think that Horta will win," said Warren Wright, 45, formerly based in East Timor with the UN and now head of East Timor Law Journal.
The race for parliament is trickier. An internally split Fretilin party remains favourite, but Mr Gusmão's new Congress for the National Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) party, holds some potential aces up its sleeve. The Democratic Party (PD), which has forged an alliance with several smaller parties, could be the spoiler.
Damien Kingsbury, an academic with Australia's Deakin University and observer of East Timor politics, said that "if the CNRT and PD-coalition join forces, then Fretilin is probably out of government".
Regardless of who wins, most agree that there is a lot to do to get the country back on track. Agriculturalist and veteran pro-Timor activist Rob Wesley-Smith has a clear set of priorities.
"People's basic needs must be taken care of first. That is nutrition, clean water and sanitation," he said, underlining the fact that rice shortages in February triggered a fresh wave of violence.
The crisis was partially over-come after the intervention of the UN World Food Programme. It is estimated that East Timor requires 83,000 tonnes of rice per year, but the Ministry of Agriculture calculates that domestic production is only 40,000 tonnes.
"The new leaders must energise the agriculture sector. People have abandoned the fields, and some of the young causing troubles do so because they have nothing to do," Mr Wesley-Smith said.
On the other hand, Mr Wright listed the restoration of peace and the normalisation of social and political relations as the overwhelming priorities.
"These include the prosecution of gangs, the confiscation of all weapons and prosecution of those involved in distributing them, the creation of competent institutions to deal with conflict and disputes, the demobilisation of the military from civil life, and a reformation of the judicial system," he said.
Mr Kingsbury added the ongoing problem of rebel soldiers to this list. "The new leadership will have to resolve the issue of the sacked soldier-petitioners and that of Major Alfredo Reinado. The petitioners are still angry and have the potential to cause future problems," he said.
Nearly 600 petitioners were sacked in March last year after going on strike over what they claimed was discrimination against those from the west of the country. Violence erupted in the following month when the petitioners and their supporters attacked the Government Palace.
Mr Reinado joined them a while later. A fugitive, he leads a group of well-armed men and has become a cult figure among young Timorese.
Mrs Lopes stressed that "lack of justice" was the main cause of the problems. "Timorese entrusted their leaders to uphold the values they fought and died for. But the general consensus is that no changes have taken place since independence and people's cry for justice has gone unheeded.
"People feel that the leaders have failed our country badly. The outbursts of violence are the culmination of their frustration, anger and profound mistrust."
Reviewing events since 1999, Mrs Lopes cited perceived injustices such as the dismissal of Falintil (the military wing of Fretilin) and the abolition of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, a neutral body formed by Mr Gusmão to win the referendum for independence in 1999, as key mistakes.
Falintil was highly respected, yet after independence a narrow age requirement excluded most of the guerillas from the national army.
"The army that emerged was a weak institution with its pride and dignity in tatters. Former resistance veterans started to reorganise themselves to fight for their rights," Mrs Lopes said. "The seeds of post-independence rebellion were planted with this injustice."
Another negative byproduct of the abolition of the National Council of Timorese Resistance was the emergence of Mr Alkatiri's Fretilin as the only political force in the country. With hegemony, Fretilin became despotic, inefficient and corrupt, guilty of a series of wrong policies and injustices. Among other problems, Mrs Lopes singled-out the adoption of Portuguese as the official language, despite the fact that more than 85 per cent of the population speaks Indonesian. Portuguese is spoken only by a small elite, considered supportive of Mr Alkatiri.
"Portuguese robbed the young Timorese of a hope for a better future. After years of fighting and studying, now they cannot get a job. They feel marginalised, isolated, poor and full of rage," she said.
In her passionate analysis, Mrs Lopes did not spare Mr Gusmão, whom she considered "guilty of letting Indonesia off the hook for the crimes committed during the occupation". Her comment referred mostly to the findings of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR), which documented countless cases of executions, torture, mutilations and rape.
Released early last year, the report shocked the world, which called for justice. Yet, Mr Gusmão rejected CAVR's call for reparations and a war-crimes tribunal, saying that "Timor-Leste must look forward and not to the past".
"Thousands of victims of war expected some justice with CAVR. But they were, once again, greatly disappointed," Mrs Lopes said.
Regarding the elections, she agreed that Mr Ramos Horta was likely to become the new president and that Mr Gusmão had a good chance of wrestling the power away from Mr Alkatiri. Her message to the two of them was simple.
"Bring justice to Timor-Leste, because without justice there cannot be security, prosperity, respect of human rights or peace."
Weekend Australian Saturday, April 7, 2007
Ramos Horta calls on powerful friends
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Dili
JOSE Ramos Horta has made a final and powerful bid for the East Timorese presidency, appearing alongside current leader Xanana Gusmao and Bishop of Dili Ricardo da Silva in a Good Friday appeal for votes.
More than 500,000 registered East Timorese voters will elect their new head of state in the country's first independently run polls on Monday. A second runoff election is due next month if, as expected, none of the candidates attracts a majority.
Legislative elections, which could see the dominant Fretilin party ousted from government and Mr Gusmao replacing Mr Ramos Horta as prime minister, will follow mid-year.
Mr Ramos Horta's move yesterday to enlist two of the nation's most important symbols -- its heads of state and church -- could prove decisive.
Hero resistance leader Mr Gusmao spent 20 years in the jungle leading the armed resistance against Indonesian occupation, before being captured and serving jail time in Jakarta; and Bishop Ricardo represents the majority of this former Portuguese colony's dirt-poor Catholic population.
Mr Ramos Horta has in recent days been playing up a perceived antagonism between the church, an institution that still governs the rhythms of daily life for most East Timorese, and the Marxist-based Fretilin party, which was a key political element -- though not the only one -- in the 24-year anti-Indonesian resistance.
''This Sunday is resurrection Sunday, and on Monday we will see the resurrection of democracy for East Timor,'' Mr Ramos Horta said, after statements by Mr Gusmao and Bishop Ricardo urging a peaceful election.
There have been scattered violent incidents in recent days between groups of various candidates' supporters.
The bloody public unrest last year, in which dozens were killed and seriously injured and which resulted in Fretilin prime minister Mari Alkatiri being replaced as the head of government by Mr Ramos Horta, is lately being characterised by all sides as the fault of their various opponents.
There was no single cause but most observers agree that a confluence of political ambition from a range of players lay at its heart. Many of those players remain intimately connected to the presidential struggle.
Only three candidates are thought to have a chance: Mr Ramos Horta; Fretilin party head and parliamentary president Francisco Guterres; and a distant outsider, Democratic Party chairman Fernando de Araujo.
Policy has played a secondary role to personal point-scoring in much of the campaign, and the strategic support of Bishop Ricardo and Mr Gusmao for the latter's long-time ally, Mr Ramos Horta, attracted criticism from the Fretilin camp yesterday.
''It's easy to understand the symbolism of having them together -- it gives out the message that this is the favourite,'' the Fretilin candidate, Mr Guterres, said at his home in the leafy harbourside Dili suburb of Farol.
''But for me as a Catholic, this is holy week, a time to reflect seriously on religious life, not to manipulate religion in support of politics,'' Mr Guterres said.
He also criticised Mr Ramos Horta's use in campaign materials of a photograph depicting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate meeting Pope Benedict XVI last year.
''Do people know whether they are voting for the Pope or for Ramos Horta?' he asked.
Fretilin has been criticised from both within and without for the authoritarian style of its leadership, which includes Mr Guterres and Mr Alkatiri.
East Timor's political landscape is littered with minor opposition parties, including several formed as breakaway movements from Fretilin in the seven years since independence.
Should Mr Guterres succeed in his bid to become president, a reinvigorated Fretilin is likely to then propel Mr Alkatiri back into the prime minister's office after the mid-year legislative elections.
But some believe that failure for Fretilin at the presidential polls could lead to crumbling support for the country's most powerful political organisation, paving the way for Mr Gusmao's ascent to the prime ministership.
In what had the appearance of an early concession of defeat, dark horse Mr de Araujo and fellow candidates Lucia Lobato, Joao Corrascalao and Manuel Xavier do Amaral complained bitterly yesterday of electoral commission irregularities.
They alleged scrutineer identity cards produced by the commission were incomplete and had been issued too late, leaving the powerful Fretilin machine in a stronger polling-day position.
Irish Times Saturday, April 7, 2007
Is there hope for East Timor?
It's five years on from independence, and as the troubled country gears up for Monday's elections, people there tell Joe Humphreys how they see the future
Frangelino is sitting on a wooden bench near a taxi-stop when The Irish Times arrives. With an inquisitive air, he tests his English on us. "I like mathematics," he says, "and chemistry, physics, biology; I want to be a scientist." Clearly a bright lad, Frangelino speaks lucidly about his education and his plans. He's the sort of quietly determined, outward-looking 20-year-old you could image topping his class in university, or maybe setting up a small business, if he happened to be from Ireland. But Frangelino is from East Timor.
A few feet away from where he speaks is the crumpled hulk of a government vehicle - hijacked and torched last month by armed gangs who had previously brought the small, southeast Asian nation close to civil war. In a nearby laneway, a column of Australian troops searched youths for weapons that might be used to destabilise Monday's presidential election - the first such poll since East Timor's independence in 2002.
Few adults can be seen in Frangelino's neighbourhood - partly a knock-on effect of the recent unrest, which caused tens of thousands of families to flee to the countryside. The demographic profile is also a legacy of East Timor's bitter occupation by Indonesia - a foreign power that wiped out a third of the Timorese population through starvation and slaughter.
Today, East Timor has one of the youngest populations in the world (40 per cent of people are under the age of 14). The country is also the poorest in Asia, thanks in large part to the Indonesian army, which destroyed most of the infrastructure on departing the former Portuguese colony. Unemployment is conservatively estimated at 50 per cent. For youths like Frangelino survival depends upon small change - like the dime he has lodged for safekeeping in his right ear when we meet him.
"I was in college but I had to stop because I couldn't pay the fees," he says. "The government doesn't help so I am trying to save." About the only employment available, he explains, is selling newspapers or mobile phone credit on the street. "If you sell $100 (€75) of phone credit you get $2 (€1.50)." His eyes lower with what seems to be shame. "I did it one day and I sold $5; I got 5 cents." Shortly after he finishes speaking, our transport comes. We say goodbye and go on our way, thinking of how Frangelino must have felt doing a day's work for the price of a sweet.
East Timor is, in every sense, an uncomfortable place to visit. There is no easy way of reaching the remote half-island, 500km north of Darwin, Australia, nor of travelling around it. Although only a fifth the size of Ireland, it takes at least five times as long to get anywhere, so bad are the potholed, snake-like roads that regularly disappear behind tropical rains, mountain fog and landslides.
Timor is an uncomfortable place to visit emotionally too. Not only do you have to hear sad stories such as Frangelino's but you must delve into the heart-breaking history of his homeland. You must acquaint yourself with the victims of Indonesian rule - from 1975, when a murderous invasion began, to 1999, when Timorese who voted for independence were mercilessly hacked down by Indonesian-backed militia.
You must learn about the role played by certain western governments in giving Indonesia diplomatic and military support for many years. And you must ask whether the United Nations, despite all its good intentions, is really capable of "nation-building".
One person who has made the long, difficult journey to the heart of East Timor is Tom Hyland. A former bus driver from Ballyfermot, Dublin, he first learnt about East Timor from a TV documentary broadcast in 1992, a few years after he was laid off by CIE. Along with some neighbours who were also unemployed at the time, he founded the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign - a group that persuaded successive governments to champion the Timorese cause internationally, as well as to send Defence Forces troops to the country to secure the outcome of the 1999 ballot for independence.
Today, Hyland can be found chugging around Dili on his second-hand motorbike, stopping off to meet everyone from government ministers to jobless youths. Officially, he is employed by the Timorese department of foreign affairs to teach English to the local diplomatic corps, swear-words in a Dublin brogue included. Unofficially, he is something of a social worker, living among the young of Timor, and also funding dozens of them through college from his own salary.
A clandestine visitor to Dili during the years of occupation, he has been a resident there since 2000, and has seen first-hand how the population has suffered. Conscious of East Timor's international image as something of a lost cause, he says: "Things are difficult at the moment, yes. But in 1999, there was nothing. Everything had been destroyed."
Like many, he believes the UN was too hasty in announcing its withdrawal from East Timor last year. Under pressure from cash-conscious donors, the international body was scaling down its local mission, UNMIT, when violence erupted. The main trigger of the fighting was a government decision in April 2006 to sack a group of soldiers who had gone on strike amid claims of discrimination in the army. Passions were inflamed by intemperate comments from politicians, including President Xanana Gusmão, who was widely blamed for helping to revive an ancient but largely artificial division between "easterners" and "westerners" in East Timor.
Following the unrest, the UN agreed to extend its mandate in the country until February 2008. Australian and New Zealand peacekeeping troops restored order, but only after 37 people had died with more than 150,000 displaced. As many as half of these remain homeless, and are sheltering today either with relatives or in refugee camps such as that on the grounds of Dili hospital.
"People are frightened to move - especially with the elections coming up," says Jose da Costa (43), a school teacher who lives with his family of nine on a tiled floor outside one of the hospital's clinics. "Compared to 1975 and 1999, this is worse. People are asking, 'What did we suffer all that loss for? For this?' What's so sad is that it's internal destruction - suco (village) against suco." The crisis has also affected the regions, particularly Manufahi, where rebel Alfredo Reinado - the leader of the main anti-government faction - had been hiding up until a few weeks ago. On March 4th last, Australian troops attacked his base in Same, killing five of Reinado's soldiers but failing to capture the man himself, who has considerable popular support.
The fighting meant markets were closed for almost a month, and emergency aid programmes - such as that run by Concern at Weberek, in southern Manufahi - had to be suspended. The Irish Times visited the centre the day it re-opened to see hundreds of families queuing for food supplements and immunisation shots. A few of the children had bloated bellies - a clear sign of malnutrition.
"Whoever becomes president, we hope they give some support to the people," says local villager Aurelia da Costa, a mother of three who has no family income. Asked to compare her situation now with that before independence, she replies: "Life was better then. Now it's very difficult to get work." The Hak Association, a Timorese human rights group, fears the government is using the elections to deflect attention from underlying problems, such as poverty and a poorly-functioning administration. "Politicians think the elections will solve the crisis. They will not," says Jose Luis de Oliveria, director of the group, which is part funded by the Government's overseas development arm Irish Aid. He says there is a particular need to combat a widespread "culture of impunity", noting that those responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians during Indonesian rule have never been held accountable.
"People are still traumatised," says James Dunn, a former Australian diplomat who now acts as a political adviser to the Timorese government. "The trauma goes right back to the Japanese invasion [during the second World World]. Each episode in the country's history since then has had similar characteristics - horrendous atrocities about which really nothing was ever done."
For some youths, the violent gangs that caused much of the recent unrest are a form of escape from - and also retribution for - this trauma. The groups, bearing names such as Korka and 77 (Seti-seti), engage in bitter turf wars, fighting hand-to-hand with machetes and rama ambons - home-made catapults that fire crude but deadly steel arrows.
Clarewoman Emma O'Loghlen, a psychologist with local mental health organisation Pradet, reports that "gang identity is stronger than national identity" among certain youths. With little if any job prospects, the average teenager is vulnerable to depression and alcohol abuse - the latter of which is exploited by sellers of tuamutin, a cheap, egg-flavoured local brew. "Mental illness is a huge problem here, but it's just not on the agenda at the moment," says O'Loghlen.
"The country needs a lot more help, and it has to be long-term," says Hyland, who is glad to learn that Irish Aid has just extended the lease on its Dili headquarters by 10 years. He says a "deeper" commitment from the aid community is also needed, suggesting Ireland could play a valuable role in "mentoring" East Timor in areas such as tourism and education. This would be similar to a role Norway is playing in helping to manage the country's oil revenues - now coming on stream under an Australian-led exploration of the Timor Sea.
To those grumbling about the cost of such involvement, Dunn has an answer.
"People keep saying, 'look at all the international community has done for East Timor'. But I say, 'look at all it has done to East Timor'."
As the Easter Monday election approaches, tension is mounting in East Timor. Dozens of people have been injured in sporadic clashes linked to the poll. Despite the ever-present setbacks, however, there are signs of hope. People are back working the land, and fresh reconciliation efforts are under way. Money may be hard to find, but "at least we are free", says local peace activist Antero "Nito" da Silva. "We don't have to run to the mountains to hide (like under Indonesian occupation)." Da Silva, who spent two years studying in Dublin under an Irish Aid scholarship programme, was shot with a rama ambon arrow and nearly killed during last year's unrest in Dili. But he is not bitter, and nor is he pessimistic about his country's future. Describing the easterner-westerner conflict as "temporary", he says: "There is a lot of intermarriage and common relations between the two sides, so the chances of a Rwanda- or Bosnia-type situation are not there."
To Hyland, the key challenge for the country is job-creation.
"The people need good political leadership," he says, "but also a vested interest in the economy to keep things stable."
The cost of success in East Timor may seem great to donor organisations that are always itching to cut and run. But the cost of failure is arguably greater. Don't forget that, for all its problems, this troubled little country is blessed with rich natural resources and a relatively homogenous society that has overcome massive odds in the past. If the international community can't build a nation here, then where can it build one?
Joe Humphreys and Bryan O'Brien travelled to East Timor with the assistance of Irish Aid under its Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund. Concern also contributed to travel expenses Their reports and extensive photo galleries are freely available at www.ireland.com/focus/timor/
The East Timor file
History: A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Up to 300,000 people, or a third of the population, perished during Indonesian occupation.
Independence: After a 1999 ballot for independence, the UN took control of the territory for two and a half years. In May 2002, the country officially became an independent state, making it the world's newest nation.
Elections: A presidential poll takes place on Monday. Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta and "Lu-Olo" Guterres, who is backed by the ruling party, Fretilin, are the main candidates in a field of eight. The winner will replace former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmão, who is set to run for prime minister in June's parliamentary elections.
Population: 857,000; GDP per capita 320
Economy: Coffee accounts for 90 per cent of exports. The country's oil-rich sea is being exploited under a joint-venture with Australia.
Irish involvement: Irish Aid is spending 6.48 million in East Timor this year in areas such as local government and human rights protection. Concern is working in the country, helping internally displaced people and other vulnerable groups. Trócaire says it is planning to set up an office in the country soon.
------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service