Friday, June 02, 2006

we was warned

a little map of East Timor, coz I love maps

Having just touched the surface of the East Timorese crisis, I feel the need to post further, to find out more.

Yesterday, two key govt ministers resigned, apparently under pressure from Prez Gusmao. One of them, interior minister Rogerio Lobato, has already been mentioned in at least one of the despatches I've read as possibly corrupt, or at least as an underminer of stable govt. He's described as having 'a strong personal security network'.

It seems that control over security and the military is central to the immediate problems facing the Alkatiri govt. To judge by the looting of a rice depot in Dili the other day, reported here, the local administration has just about given up on enforcing security and is hoping the Australians and other outsiders will look after things. The report suggests that thousands of law-abiding citizens are losing out to the looters.

Meanwhile, the Australian govt has decided to weigh in on the side of Gusmao. I'm not sure what to make of this. From a purely legal perspective, it seems that Alkatiri should still be in charge. He's democratically elected, and he hasn't yet lost the support of his party, at least not officially. There are rebel factions accusing him of murder, but no charges have been brought against him, and I don't know how serious these accusations are. From a pragmatic perspective, though, Gusmao is far more popular and far less divisive. Downer and co seem to have based their backing of Gusmao on something in the constitution which designates the President as commander in chief of defence and national security forces, but I think this is merely titular, except, I suppose, in times of crisis, and that's the nub. In any case there's a dispute within ET as to who's in charge.

Clearly the resignation of the two ministers has sent another message to Alkatiri, but, according to this report (I'm mining The Age online), Gusmao and other political and religious leaders are reluctant to move on Alkatiri directly at this stage, because of the support Fretilin has in regions outside of Dili.

Although the violence is now 'reduced' to gangs of unemployed and disaffected youths (egged on, according to Australian military authorities, by external forces), there's a more serious stand-off between rebel and loyalist forces within the military, which dates back at least to March and the mass sackings within the army, ordered by Alkatiri, following strikes over issues of pay and discrimination. Those sacked were mainly from the west of the country, and this has increased east-west tensions, which are complicated further by divisions along ethnic lines, and various hangovers from the earlier pro-independence movement.

The police, too, are in total disarray. As reported here, ten unarmed police officers were shot dead last week by soldiers after an attack on police headquarters in Dili. The police were in the process of surrendering and being escorted from the building when the army opened fire. It appears to have been something unpremeditated, with tensions running high due to suspicions that many police were siding with rebels in the military. Australia has sent a number of federal police to support and assist police ops in ET.

According to a radio report I heard yesterday, ET's police force has more or less completely melted away. There's talk now of transforming the foreign intervention from a quasi military peace-keeping operation to a policing operation.

Finally, some comments that put Howard's offensive accusatory remarks about the ET government into perspective. They come from a report by an independent think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and they were written in 2002, just at the time that ET's first ever independent government took office.

Australia's key policy challenge is to help East Timor meet its urgent security problems, and to encourage other countries to do the same. In the long term that challenge is best met through economic growth and political development. But before that can happen, East Timor needs to overcome pressing internal security and law and order problems. The new Government in Dili does not have the capacity to meet these problems. Australia's current program of aid to East Timor is doing little to help in these sectors, and other donors are doing no better. If we fail to help effectively, Australia's security interests in a stable East Timor and a peaceful region will be at risk: East Timor may become a failed state, and a source of continuing tension between Australia and Indonesia.
The Australian government has had ample warning, but again it has chosen to blame the victims.



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