east timor conflic

Green Left Weekly

Behind the conflict in East Timor

Tony Iltis

17 August 2007

On August 6, East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta appointed his
predecessor, Xanana Gusmao, prime minister and asked him to form a
government without Fretilin, the largest party in the parliament
elected on June 30. Despite the constitutional legitimacy of this
being unclear, Gusmao’s government was sworn in on August 8. Since
Ramos Horta’s decision there have been outbreaks of rioting and
arson, as well as protests that were tear-gassed by UN police and the
Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).

Fretilin won 29% of the vote — a drop of 28% from 2001 — giving
them 21 seats in the 65-seat parliament while Gusmao’s National
Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) won 24% of the vote and
18 seats. The CNRT has formed a coalition with two other parties,
giving Gusmao’s new government a comfortable majority in parliament.
However, Fretilin has argued that under the constitution the party
that won the largest number of seats should have been asked to
attempt to form a government first. Given that a Fretilin government
would have been unable to win a parliamentary confidence vote, the
final outcome would have been the same.

The Western media, in particular that of Australia, has portrayed the
disorder as the organised work of “Fretilin mobs”. However, Fretilin
leaders have been touring the country urging calm. The unrest cannot
be explained by the constitutional wrangling: it can only be
understood in the context of the internal divisions, and growing
suspicion towards Australia, created by the ousting of Fretilin prime
minister Mari Alkatiri in June 2006 and his replacement with
then-foreign minister Ramos Horta. This coup left 37 dead, 150,000
internally displaced people and was the pretext for the deployment of
the ISF. The past fortnight’s disturbances have created another 4000
internally displaced people. Alkatiri has accused Australia of being
behind his overthrow. At the time, Australian politicians and media
played a significant role in pushing since-discredited allegations
blaming Alkatiri for the violence unleashed by a mutiny in the
security forces led by officers Alfredo Renaido and Vicente Rai Los
da Conceicao. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called for
Alkatiri’s resignation.

“There’s a very strong sense amongst lot of people, not just Fretilin
supporters, that Australia has been intervening in [East Timor’s]
political process”, Tim Anderson, senior lecturer in political
economy at Sydney University, told Green Left Weekly. This sentiment
was evident on July 26, when Howard, on a one-day visit to East Timor
to spend his birthday with the Australian troops, provoked
demonstrations demanding the troops’ withdrawal by commenting that he
expected Gusmao to be the next prime minister.

According to Anderson, the ISF troops were involved in petty
harassment of Fretilin’s election campaign, “stopping people on the
way to rallies and confiscating banners”, while the Australian media
made “constant attacks aimed at de-legitimising Fretilin”. Similar
allegations were made during the presidential election campaign in
May, when Ramos Horta defeated Fretilin’s Francisco Guterres Lu’Olo.

The events of 2006 created both polarisation on partisan lines and
disillusionment with the entire political establishment. “The
popularity of Fretilin was damaged but that of Xanana Gusmao more
so”, Anderson argued, pointing out that Gusmao had won 80% of the
vote in the 2001 presidential elections.

“He is seen as having used violence to undermine the first democratic
government — trust in that man has been seriously undermined.”
Particularly damaging were his links with Reinado, even after the
latter had “killed army officers.”

Anderson pointed to an “asymmetry and partisan nature” on the part of
the ISF, which devoted its energy to “preventing Fretilin rallies
while ignoring violence in Dili” mainly directed against communities
in which Fretilin had a high level of support. This extended to the
way in which those involved in the coup were dealt with. While former
justice minister Rogario Lobato was imprisoned for distributing arms
to civilians, “he didn’t kill people, while Rai Los, who did, was on
the staff of Ramos Horta’s presidential election campaign”.

Rai Los remains unpunished. During the parliamentary elections he was
working for Gusmao’s campaign. The Australian-trained Reinado was
arrested after the 2006 events but escaped from custody shortly after
while the ISF were apparently looking the other way. “Australia made
half-hearted attempts at catching him but the Xanana/Ramos Horta camp
encouraged them to back off”, said Anderson. The July 20 Sydney
Morning Herald reported that the hunt for Reinado had been officially
called off.

The Catholic Church has also been accused of playing a partisan role
in the elections. “The church was very strongly identified with the
2006 coup … The church hierarchy is anti-Fretilin”, Anderson said,
explaining that this began in 2005 when the Fretilin government tried
to make religious education voluntary in schools. The church
organised a demonstration against the proposal with logistical
support from the US embassy.

Anderson argued that the hostility towards Fretilin from Australia
and other Western powers reflected that, while its progressiveness
should not be overstated, “the first post-independence government had
some important achievements”.

He said that one of these was winning a fairer share of the Timor Sea
oil and gas reserves than Australia would have liked. Australia has
been pushing for the Timor Sea gas-fields’ LPG refinery to be built
in Darwin, but the Fretilin government insisted that it should be in
East Timor. “This will be a test for the new government”, Anderson argued.

“[The Fretilin government] also followed an independent agricultural
policy: expanding rice production, in opposition to the demand of the
World Bank and Australia. They’ve increased production from one third
to two thirds of domestic needs.” He added that both major Australian
parties were opposed on principal to poor countries becoming
self-sufficient in food crops because it undermined the export
potential of Australian agribusiness.

Other achievements include abolishing school fees and introducing
free meals for primary students. Anderson said the government’s most
significant achievement was having “the fastest growing health
program in the region. With Cuban help, they have increased the
number of doctors in the country from 45 to 250 doctors. There are
currently 300 Cuban health workers in East Timor and 700 East
Timorese medical students studying in Cuba. The Cubans have also been
running a literacy program, because they believe you can’t have
health without education.”

He added that the new government was reviewing this program because
of the hostility it aroused from the US, the Catholic Church and
Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer. The number of East
Timorese medical scholarships in Cuba could be increased to 1000. In
a glaring contrast, there have never been more than 20 East Timorese
students on scholarships in Australia. This number has since been
reduced to 8 “because of the oil and gas dispute”, Anderson said.

Green Left Weekly

Behind the conflict in East Timor

Tony Iltis

17 August 2007

On August 6, East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta appointed his
predecessor, Xanana Gusmao, prime minister and asked him to form a
government without Fretilin, the largest party in the parliament
elected on June 30. Despite the constitutional legitimacy of this
being unclear, Gusmao’s government was sworn in on August 8. Since
Ramos Horta’s decision there have been outbreaks of rioting and
arson, as well as protests that were tear-gassed by UN police and the
Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).

Fretilin won 29% of the vote — a drop of 28% from 2001 — giving
them 21 seats in the 65-seat parliament while Gusmao’s National
Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) won 24% of the vote and
18 seats. The CNRT has formed a coalition with two other parties,
giving Gusmao’s new government a comfortable majority in parliament.
However, Fretilin has argued that under the constitution the party
that won the largest number of seats should have been asked to
attempt to form a government first. Given that a Fretilin government
would have been unable to win a parliamentary confidence vote, the
final outcome would have been the same.

The Western media, in particular that of Australia, has portrayed the
disorder as the organised work of “Fretilin mobs”. However, Fretilin
leaders have been touring the country urging calm. The unrest cannot
be explained by the constitutional wrangling: it can only be
understood in the context of the internal divisions, and growing
suspicion towards Australia, created by the ousting of Fretilin prime
minister Mari Alkatiri in June 2006 and his replacement with
then-foreign minister Ramos Horta. This coup left 37 dead, 150,000
internally displaced people and was the pretext for the deployment of
the ISF. The past fortnight’s disturbances have created another 4000
internally displaced people. Alkatiri has accused Australia of being
behind his overthrow. At the time, Australian politicians and media
played a significant role in pushing since-discredited allegations
blaming Alkatiri for the violence unleashed by a mutiny in the
security forces led by officers Alfredo Renaido and Vicente Rai Los
da Conceicao. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called for
Alkatiri’s resignation.

“There’s a very strong sense amongst lot of people, not just Fretilin
supporters, that Australia has been intervening in [East Timor’s]
political process”, Tim Anderson, senior lecturer in political
economy at Sydney University, told Green Left Weekly. This sentiment
was evident on July 26, when Howard, on a one-day visit to East Timor
to spend his birthday with the Australian troops, provoked
demonstrations demanding the troops’ withdrawal by commenting that he
expected Gusmao to be the next prime minister.

According to Anderson, the ISF troops were involved in petty
harassment of Fretilin’s election campaign, “stopping people on the
way to rallies and confiscating banners”, while the Australian media
made “constant attacks aimed at de-legitimising Fretilin”. Similar
allegations were made during the presidential election campaign in
May, when Ramos Horta defeated Fretilin’s Francisco Guterres Lu’Olo.

The events of 2006 created both polarisation on partisan lines and
disillusionment with the entire political establishment. “The
popularity of Fretilin was damaged but that of Xanana Gusmao more
so”, Anderson argued, pointing out that Gusmao had won 80% of the
vote in the 2001 presidential elections.

“He is seen as having used violence to undermine the first democratic
government — trust in that man has been seriously undermined.”
Particularly damaging were his links with Reinado, even after the
latter had “killed army officers.”

Anderson pointed to an “asymmetry and partisan nature” on the part of
the ISF, which devoted its energy to “preventing Fretilin rallies
while ignoring violence in Dili” mainly directed against communities
in which Fretilin had a high level of support. This extended to the
way in which those involved in the coup were dealt with. While former
justice minister Rogario Lobato was imprisoned for distributing arms
to civilians, “he didn’t kill people, while Rai Los, who did, was on
the staff of Ramos Horta’s presidential election campaign”.

Rai Los remains unpunished. During the parliamentary elections he was
working for Gusmao’s campaign. The Australian-trained Reinado was
arrested after the 2006 events but escaped from custody shortly after
while the ISF were apparently looking the other way. “Australia made
half-hearted attempts at catching him but the Xanana/Ramos Horta camp
encouraged them to back off”, said Anderson. The July 20 Sydney
Morning Herald reported that the hunt for Reinado had been officially
called off.

The Catholic Church has also been accused of playing a partisan role
in the elections. “The church was very strongly identified with the
2006 coup … The church hierarchy is anti-Fretilin”, Anderson said,
explaining that this began in 2005 when the Fretilin government tried
to make religious education voluntary in schools. The church
organised a demonstration against the proposal with logistical
support from the US embassy.

Anderson argued that the hostility towards Fretilin from Australia
and other Western powers reflected that, while its progressiveness
should not be overstated, “the first post-independence government had
some important achievements”.

He said that one of these was winning a fairer share of the Timor Sea
oil and gas reserves than Australia would have liked. Australia has
been pushing for the Timor Sea gas-fields’ LPG refinery to be built
in Darwin, but the Fretilin government insisted that it should be in
East Timor. “This will be a test for the new government”, Anderson argued.

“[The Fretilin government] also followed an independent agricultural
policy: expanding rice production, in opposition to the demand of the
World Bank and Australia. They’ve increased production from one third
to two thirds of domestic needs.” He added that both major Australian
parties were opposed on principal to poor countries becoming
self-sufficient in food crops because it undermined the export
potential of Australian agribusiness.

Other achievements include abolishing school fees and introducing
free meals for primary students. Anderson said the government’s most
significant achievement was having “the fastest growing health
program in the region. With Cuban help, they have increased the
number of doctors in the country from 45 to 250 doctors. There are
currently 300 Cuban health workers in East Timor and 700 East
Timorese medical students studying in Cuba. The Cubans have also been
running a literacy program, because they believe you can’t have
health without education.”

He added that the new government was reviewing this program because
of the hostility it aroused from the US, the Catholic Church and
Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer. The number of East
Timorese medical scholarships in Cuba could be increased to 1000. In
a glaring contrast, there have never been more than 20 East Timorese
students on scholarships in Australia. This number has since been
reduced to 8 “because of the oil and gas dispute”, Anderson said.

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