Subject: Int'l Peacekeepers Not Key to Stability
EAST TIMOR: Int'l
Peacekeepers Not Key to Stability
Analysis by Setyo Budi
DILI, Oct 6 (IPS) - East Timor's political elite cannot leave the
country's stability up to the International Stabilisation Forces (ISF).
They must unite and stop bickering for power, according to experts,
academics and observers.
"Sustainability of stability of [East Timor] does not belong to foreign
troops; it belongs to Timorese leaders on how to overcome their
contradictions," Mari Alkatiri, former East Timorese Prime Minister,
The fracture within East Timorese leadership surfaced in 2005. It
reached its peak in 2006 and that caused divisions between those who are
from the western and eastern parts of the country. The conflict caused
37 deaths, and over 100,000 Dili residents to flee their homes. It
resulted in Alkatiri's resignation as Prime Minister and the arrival of
International Stabilisation Forces -- comprised of Australian and New
The rivalry between Alkatiri and Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's current
Prime Minister, intensified when Gusmao formed his National Congress for
the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) party and directly challenged
and competed against Fretilin -- the political party which won the last
general elections. CNRT went on to form a coalition government with
other political parties, including the Majority Parliamentary Alliance
(AMP). This CNRT government has never been recognised by Fretilin.
"There are two people here if they can sit and really understand each
other, then 80 percent problems of the country will be solved. I am
ready to sit with Xanana Gusmao but not as a commander and a soldier,"
said Alkatiri to IPS at the Fretilin headquarters.
At present there are 750 Australian Defence Force personnel in East
Timor; their task is to maintain the country's stability. They are
composed of a joint task force headquarters and Timor-Leste Battle Group
"East Timor is one of [Australia's] nearest neighbours; the country is
still in difficulties, as a neighbour that has a lot of resources we are
happy to help. We want a secure safe and prosperous East Timor on our
doorstep," Peter Heyward, Australia's ambassador for East Timor told IPS.
East Timor is seen as being quite strategic for Australia, due to its
geographic location. Any foreign intrusion may use East Timor as its
military launching base.
Stability in East Timor will also ease the bilateral relationship
between Australia and Indonesia. "East Timor's security cannot be
assured without the help and cooperation of Indonesia, and Australia's
relationship with Indonesia cannot prosper if East Timor's security
remains a problem between us. Neither of us wants it to become a source
of instability in our neighbourhood, and threatening our own security or
complicating our bilateral relationship," reads a 2002 Australian
Strategic Policy Institute paper entitled 'New Neighbour, New Challenge,
Australia and the security of East Timor'.
Gusmao recently requested more troops from Australia following a double
assassination attempt on both himself and East Timor's President on Feb.
Although Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd distanced himself from his
predecessor John Howard's rhetoric in foreign policies, Australian
strategic interest -- to be the influential power in the region -- is
still his governing motive.
"The Asia-Pacific region will become more prosperous and its population
will continue to grow. As nations grow and become more affluent, they
also update their military forces," Rudd said in a speech to the
Returned and Service League.
Rudd has indicated there is an increase of "the real growth of the
defence budget by three percent per annum 2017-18". Australia was ranked
14th in the world by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in
2007 in terms of its overall military expenditure.
"If Australia wants to create stability in the region, it is not by
creating military muscle and aligning with the U.S., or aligning with
other economic powers, it is by empowering, giving more credibility to
the region itself," Loro Horta, an associate research fellow at S.
Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological
University in Singapore, told IPS.
Apart from sending its troops to lead the ISF, Australia has been
providing funding to East Timor. It is one of East Timor's main donors,
apart from Japan and China. It will donate over 100 million dollars over
the next four years to the country.
The East Timor security situation has been improving but is still
fragile. This is the rationale for the ADF not pulling out of East
Timor. Political rivalries are brewing as the early 2009 election looms,
and East Timor military reform has not progressed much.
Many were surprised when Gusmao combined the country's security forces
-- the Policia National de Timor Leste (PNTL) and Falintil-Forcs de
Defesa de Timor Leste (F-FDTL) -- under a joint command.
"F-FDTL should not be acting as a second police force, internal security
function is police function, and army is for external security. In East
Timor until just recently, the army is quite heavily involved in
internal security through the joint command," John Virgoe, a researcher
with the Brussels-based independent, non-profit, International Crisis
Group (ICG) told IPS.
The "problem within F-FDTL and PNTL has not been solved, particularly
within PNTL," said Alkatiri.
This is a crucial problem that the country faces in the future, and
urgently needs to be addressed, if the ISF presence in East Timor is to
There is an opportunity now for the political elite to put aside their
differences and unite, while a secure space is created by the presence
of ISF. It is something that the Timorese population is waiting for.
"It is up to Timorese leadership to use the breathing space to give
opportunities and create jobs for the people. The problem with Timorese
is we are united by an external foreign threat, but when it is not there
any more we tend to turn to each other," Horta told IPS.
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