Monthly Archives: December 2008

Random observations from an English speaking foreigner in Dili, Timor-Leste



Cristo Riviera

Posted in Culture/Society, Recreation at 3:05 pm by Squatter

This year, the road to the Cristo Rei statue has been upgraded and is now almost 100% pothole-less. It even has lights. It has new restaurants at Metiaut who have lifted the game a bit.

Further down past the Metiaut restaurant strip, there are signs of increased development with a trend to building properties on the seaside of the road with 2 metre high fences around them. Maybe one day, you will not be able to see the sea from the road.

Further along again, there is a big re-development of the Cristo Rei restaurant strip from Caz Bar onwards. Public toilets are being built at both ends and a new low stone wall alongside the road. Small statues sit each side of the numerous openings in this stone wall. A footpath is being constructed just over the wall.

I can almost see the day when this area has sun lounges for hire. Although this may appeal to some, a typical OZ response to that is to find another beach. Anyway, welcome to Cristo Riviera.

Alkatiri out of the negotiations of the Timor Sea

Dili, 09 Dec (Lusa) – Mari Alkatiri, former prime minister and secretary general of Fretilin, “is definitely out” of the negotiations of the Timor Sea, announced today in Dili the direction of the party.

The refusal of Mari Alkatiri was announced at a press conference by the President of Fretilin, Francisco Guterres “Lu Olo”.

The decision “of Mari Alkatiri and the Fretilin” comes in the wake of criticisms made a week ago in the National bench of the National Congress for Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), said Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres.

The CNRT is chaired by the current head of government, Xanana Gusmão, and belongs to the Alliance for Parliamentary Majority (AMP), in power since August 2007.

“”No more strokes with a two-edged sword,” said Francisco Guterres “Lu Olo”.

“Oil is available to the CNRT and we want to see the outcome of negotiations,” added the president of Fretilin.

The President of the Republic, José Ramos Horta, announced Nov. 21 that Mari Alkatiri would “manage and coordinate” negotiations on the development of Greater Sunrise field.

The announcement by the head of state was made after a “cordial” meeting for almost two hours between José Ramos Horta, Mari Alkatiri and Xanana Gusmão.

“The three leaders shared the same views and positions on the Greater Sunrise and using the knowledge of Mari Alkatiri over the Timor Sea,” said a statement from the Presidency of the Republic.

The announcement, however, was poorly received by the side of the CNRT, which considered the choice of Mari Alkatiri for the negotiations of the Timor Sea, “an absurdity.”

“The appointment of Mari Alkatiri for the project of Greater Sunrise is related to economic matters that are not within the competence of the President”, accused the group of CNRT a political statement.

“The appointment on behalf of national interest only promotes the President’s friend, Mari Alkatiri, a place of great strategic financial revenue of the State” (sic), also accused the party of Xanana Gusmão.

To the CNRT, the “absurd” is also appoint “a leader of the opposition which does not recognize this government.”

This was underlined today, again, by Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres himself.

There was no contract in exchange for recognition of the Fretilin government,” explained the leader of the party.

“Alkatiri had accepted the condition to serve the country.”


Lusa/fim Lusa / end

7 December 1975: the politics of remembering

Pat Walsh, 8 December 2008

A key principle of both good memorialisation and reconciliation is that the truth be honestly acknowledged in plain language. Memorialisation that seeks to enhance by euphemism or to evade compromises both the lessons of history and the building of understanding and healthy relationships. Such memorials obfuscate rather than enlighten. They might defuse in the short term but they can also confuse and undermine trust.

Thirty three years ago this week, those of Dili’s 30,000 citizens still in the capital woke up to a real life nightmare. Around 3 am on Sunday, 7 December 1975, Indonesian warships opened fire on Dili after sailing into Timor’s waters under cover of darkness. Around 4.30 am, 400 Indonesian marines in amphibious tanks and landing craft stormed the Kampung Alor beach along the stretch now occupied by the Esplanada, Dili Beach, Casa Minha restaurants and other popular spots. At 6 am, 9 Hercules dropped paratroopers over the site of the new Chinese built presidential complex, then returned around 8 am. Following skirmishes with Fretilin forces, ABRI troops terrorised citizens by conducting a number of mass and individual executions in parts of Dili well known to many today – the parks and port in front of Hotel Timor, Colmera shopping centre, buildings at various points along the Obrigado Barracks road, Matadouro, and the Maloa River in Bairro Pite, to name some.

Codenamed Seroja or lotus (who dreams up these terms?), there was nothing about the invasion to justify any association with this sacred flower, famed for its beauty and fragrance. On the contrary, as a careful reading of the CAVR report Chega! makes clear, the assault on Dili was a disaster from every point of view – militarily, morally, legally, politically and internationally. ABRI blew its surprise moves, operated on bad intelligence, dropped its paratroopers in the wrong places, had its troops firing on each other, sustained significant loss of troop life, terrorised the city it had come to liberate, earned the condemnation of the UN, violated the Geneva Conventions and human rights, executed unarmed civilians and alienated a people who might have responded differently to less brutal behaviour. As the then anti-Fretilin Bishop of Dili famously said: ‘Indonesian paratroopers descended from heaven like angels but then behaved like devils’. Indonesia knew it was out of order. It invaded furtively by not declaring war, and with a guilty conscience removed insignia from its vessels and troops, used AK-47s not traceable to the US, its principal military sponsor, and claimed that its troops were ‘volunteers’. It also attacked on a Sunday. Did the military who spent hours and weeks planning this adventure think they might catch the Timorese on their knees? Major-General Benny Murdani toured Dili the following day. He later described the operation as ‘embarrassing’ and criticised the troops for ‘not displaying discipline’.

The invasion of Timor-Leste was probably Indonesia’s biggest military operation and was certainly its most costly in every sense. For Timor-Leste it was the opposite of Seroja, a bouquet of bullets not flowers.

Neither Indonesia nor Timor-Leste, however, have chosen to remember the attack on Dili for what it was – an embarrassing exercise in war crimes, aggression and incompetence. Both have chosen to ignore the ugly truth. Indonesia held no-one accountable, including for the deaths of its own troops, and through the inauguration of the Seroja Memorial in Jakarta on 10 November 2002, National Heroes Day, has elected to remember the event in heroic terms, code for ‘we did nothing wrong’. Timor-Leste has also chosen not to press the point. 7 December is officially commemorated as Timor-Leste heroes day, deflecting public attention away from Indonesia. The people of Dili are left to remember the reality as best they can and to puzzle how both sides could have covered themselves in glory that fateful day.

For an account of the attack on Dili on 7 December 1975, see Chega!, Part 3 History of the Conflict, pp 60-67 and other references passim, e.g. chapters on self-determination and killings in Part 7. Website:

Comment on 7 December 1975

Indonesia’s Merpati Flies Into Trouble

Asia Sentinel
December 4, 2008

By Our Correspondent

A state-owned airline leaves 13 new planes on a ramp in China

It seemed like a coup for both China and Indonesia when in 2006 Indonesia’s domestic state-owned airline Merpati Nusantara agreed to pay US$225 million for 15 Xinzhou-60 passenger planes, the proudest product of the mainland’s nascent aircraft industry and China’s shot across the bow of the world’s airline industry.

But now the hapless Merpati finds itself the subject of an international dispute with China over the fact that it took delivery of only two of the aircraft and apparently has never taken any of a US$60 million soft loan it agreed with the Chinese government’s Exim Bank to buy them. Merpati did take delivery on the two, the airline said, but only to try them out. Xi’an is now charging that Merpati has been using them for free for the last two years.

Muhammad Said Didu, the secretary of the Ministry for State Enterprises, Merpati’s parent, says he didn’t know the airline had bought the planes. “I did not realize [Merpati had signed the agreement] until I became the chief commissioner of Merpati,” Didu told local reporters, although Xi’an, in a response made available to Asia Sentinel, said the Indonesian Commercial Counselor to China and the Chinese Minister Counselor to Indonesia also signed the contract.

The former Merpati chairman who signed the contract appears not to have had authorization to do so. The first inkling Jakarta had of the deal, apparently, was when the Chinese Ambassador, Zhang Qiuyue, registered a complaint with officials at Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport. Finance Ministry officials reportedly registered shock at discovering they were on the hook for US$223 million in airplanes.

Now, Didu says, the government is being forced to try to renegotiate the deal, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono becoming involved personally. Chinese and Indonesian government delegations today are seeking ways to salvage the stalled deal, which was supposed to have been completed in August.

Merpati’s refusal to sign off is turning into a dispute that could threaten bilateral trade between the two countries. Beijing and the aircraft company are threatening to take the case to an international arbitration panel. Merpati’s president director, Bambang Bhakti, said a government-appointed team established to restructure the airline would travel to China on Dec. 9-12 to try to resolve the deadlock.

Designed and built by the state-owned China Aviation Industry Corp, the Xinzhou, a 60-passenger turboprop, is the latest example of how China’s rapidly evolving economy is moving up the technology scale. At US$14 million per copy, the MA-60, as it is known, far undersold the Canadian planemaker Bombardier’s US$26.5 million per unit. Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer dominate the world turboprop market. The MA-60s were to replace Merpati’s aging fleet of German Fokker 27s and CASA-235s, manufactured in Spain by EADS.

Xi’an is threatening lawsuits. “We will give them one more chance to discuss the means, in consideration of bilateral relations between the two countries,” said Jack Liu, contractual and legal affairs manager at Xi’an Aircraft, in an email made available to Asia Sentinel. “But I don’t think we can lower the price.”

The Chinese company has already has trained pilots, ground maintenance engineers, dispatchers and even the flight attendants to operate the MA60. The other 13, painted with the Merpati livery and ready for delivery, have been sitting in China for four months, according to a spokesman for Xi’an.

Purwatmo, Merpati’s corporate secretary, said Merpati would like Xi’an to reduce the $14 million price tag for each plane although, given the drastic downturn in air travel, it is difficult to say what price Merpati would find acceptable. Earlier this year, the airline had to return seven Boeing 737-200s because they were contributing to operational losses.

“At this current time of economic crisis, who would want to renegotiate? But we’re hoping the government will be able to do something,” Purwatmo told reporters, adding that the two aircraft Merpati did took delivery on were only because the company wanted to try them out. The company, he added, also wants to clarify some clauses in the contract related to pricing and technical issues.

Merpati is hardly alone in wanting to defer orders. Airlines across the world for most of the year have coped with record high jet fuel prices, combined with declining passenger loads as the global economic crisis deepened. The International Air Transport Association said in September that passenger traffic had fallen by 2.9 percent over September of 2007, the first such decline since the SARS crisis of 2003. Across Asia, passenger traffic has fallen by 6.8 percent over the same period. At least seven airlines have stopped flying so far in 2008 across the world, and those that remain in the skies are cancelling or deferring aircraft new orders, including Air France-KLM and even Hong Kong’s patrician Cathay Pacific, which is in talks with Boeing to delay some deliveries.

But Merpati is in a class of its own. It has operated in the black only two years in the 17 years since 1991. In August, Sofyan Djalil, the minister of Indonesia’s state-owned companies said that if the airline wasn’t in the black in just three months, the government would shut it down ­ although it’s still flying. In a drastic reshaping, the airline was forced to move its headquarters out of Jakarta to Makassar in South Sulawesi and cut its workforce in half in September, sacking 1,300 employees and leaving it with only about 200 flight crew and roughly 850 ground staff. Previously it might have been one of the world’s most overstaffed air carriers, with 600 pilots and 4,300 staff to operate only 35 airplanes. At the time, Merpati had assets of only Rp 952 billion, compared with debts of Rp 2.3 trillion.

Sofyan Djalil said Merpati actually could be profitable by concentrating on the eastern region, using only propeller-driven and small jets, giving it a clear market, low competition protected by local governments, hopefully enabling it to turn a profit.

Merpati is Indonesia’s domestic flag carrier, with Garuda International operating on international routes. Before the August cutback, Merpati was operating flights to 25 destinations across Indonesia plus flights to Malaysia and East Timor.


Joyo Indonesia News Service

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In memory of JoyoNews founder, leader, and inspiration
Bapak Gordon Bishop
8 October 1946 – 21 July 2007

IDPs face difficult journey home

01 Dec 2008 13:42:19 GMT

Source: IRIN

DILI, 1 December 2008 (IRIN) – More than 100,000 people fled their homes in 2006 for welfare centres and relatives’ homes when violence erupted following splits within the police and military.

Forty-one camps have now closed and the government hopes to close the last 16 by February 2009 and help the remaining displaced people (IDPs) – about 2,200 families (15,000 people) – to return home. However, the government is struggling to provide essential services such as water and education to communities where large numbers of IDPs have returned.

Unresolved land ownership issues are also a continuing problem for people trying to rebuild their lives, according to authorities, and the government fears a lack of employment opportunities will lead to frustration once the money from the returns package has been spent.

Finn Reske-Nielsen, deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General, said both short- and long-term issues had to be considered.

“There is a need to address the social jealousy issue,” he said, with many residents in communities receiving IDPs resentful that they were returning with large sums of money while the residents received nothing.

He was also concerned that the economic and social support mechanisms should be in place to ensure that IDPs could reconstruct their livelihoods and that any tensions with permanent residents be reduced.

Short-term problems

Jose da Silva’s house was virtually destroyed during the 2006 crisis. “The roof is gone. They destroyed the windows, doors and all that is left is the walls,” he told IRIN.

Da Silva has received a government recovery package of US$4,500 to rebuild his house, but says the money is not enough.

“It’s difficult because right now everything is becoming expensive,” he said. “I can only use the government payment to fix the house, not to buy furniture and things for cooking inside the house which were destroyed,” he said.

“If we include those things I don’t think $4,500 is enough.”

Da Silva is now living at his brother’s house, and even when he does move back to his community, there is no guarantee he will have access to adequate water, sanitation and education for his children.

Community chiefs from eight of the 10 neighbourhoods in Dili that have accepted returnees have reported tension over access to resources, the Minister for Social Solidarity, Maria Domingas Fernandes Alves, said.

Some returnees are reluctant to start rebuilding their damaged or destroyed houses because of unsettled land ownership issues, she said.

“Many cases have emerged that involve problems with returns because of pre-crisis disputes over ownership,” she said.

Many returnees were still living in tents or squatting on empty land after leaving the camps, she said.

Sustainable returns

“The challenges to sustainable return are a manifestation … of the 2006 crisis and of the broader societal and political problems that led to it, including security sector reform, access to justice, and unresolved land disputes, among others,” Reske-Nielsen said.

At a 21 November government retreat on closing IDP camps, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao agreed, saying that not all the conflicts surrounding the crisis had been resolved. “It will … be necessary that the government honestly assess and acknowledge the root causes of the crisis and work closely with communities to deal with them,” he said.

The government is conducting vocational training programmes for young people and ensuring pensions are paid to the elderly. Government teams involved in dialogue and mediation efforts are employed in neighbourhoods throughout Dili and the districts to assist in reducing tensions and resolving problems between returnees and the permanent communities.

However, Alves said the government and agencies needed to work in close coordination to ensure IDP returns succeeded.

“Closing camps is a good first step; however, we will all need to work together on maintaining community stabilisation, by addressing the … challenges, to ensure the good work we have done so far is not wasted,” she said.


The Law does not only apply to small and poor people

Caicoli Street, Dili-East Timor, Phone: 742-2821; 731-8653

Statement from Civil Society regarding Appeals Court Decision:
The Law does not only apply to small and poor people

Timor Leste, as a nation under the democratic rule of law (see box) needs to put the supreme law and its offspring higher than the interests of any political party or individual. It is important for everyone, including the sovereign organs of the state, to comply with and obey the decision issued by the Court of Appeals. This will continue to strengthen a democratic state governed under rule of law, giving confidence to every Timorese citizen and to the international community to participate in the process of strong and sustainable development for the future of Timor-Leste.
The objectives of the state, according to Article 6.b of the Constitution of RDTL, include “To guarantee and promote fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens and the respect for the principles of the democratic State based on the rule of law.”
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are important actors in Timor-Leste, with the responsibility to be a bridge between all the sovereign organs and the people of this country. To insure that everyone is included in the process of development in all sectors, it is important for accurate information to be distributed to every Timorese person, from the national level down to each aldeia.

CSOs have long had a clear position about the General State Budget, especially the 2008 mid-year adjustment. From the beginning, we questioned some parts, including the allocation of $240 million to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), and the Government’s intention to withdraw more money from the Petroleum Fund than the Estimated Sustainable Income (ESI = 3% of the money in the fund plus the expected revenues from Timor-Leste’s oil and gas reserves). Eventually, as we all know, the Appeals Court on 13 November 2008 sent its decision to Parliament saying that:

1. $240 million allocated to the ESF violates the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (CRDTL), which prohibits secret budgets within the state budget. Also, because the National Parliament cannot exercise its power to monitor such a budget.
Article 145.2 CRDTL “The Budget law shall provide, based on efficiency and effectiveness, a breakdown of the revenues and expenditures of the State, as well as preclude the existence of secret appropriations and funds.”
2. Taking $290.7 million more than the ESI (the ESI limits withdrawals to $396.1 million), for a total withdrawal of $686.8 million, from the Petroleum Fund is illegal because it violates the requirement of the 2005 Petroleum Fund Act that petroleum resources must be managed to benefit current and future generations. The Government failed to follow the requirements of Articles 8 and 9 to give a detailed explanation of why taking more money than the ESI is in the long-term interests of Timor-Leste.

Regarding this decision from the Appeals Court, some people have given their perspectives and opinions about how other sovereign organs should respond. From Civil Society, we see that it is important for everyone to put the interests of the nation above their individual or political interests. This issue is not a game, but an essential step in our actions to strengthen the judicial system in Timor-Leste, as a democratic state under law which follows the Constitution, where no one is above the law.
Article 2.2 CRDTL “The State shall be subject to the Constitution and to the law.”
Article 119 CRDTL “Courts are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law.”
As a democratic state, we put the Constitution as the highest law in the land. Therefore, we see that there will be serious consequences which will affect Timor-Leste’s development if other sovereign organs refuse to comply with the decision of the Appeals Court:

1) It will weaken Timor-Leste’s judicial system, and will cause criminals to doubt that the courts will carry out their Constitutional functions, increasing impunity in the justice area.
Article 118.3 “Court decisions shall be binding and shall prevail over the decisions of any other authority.”
2) It is very likely to increase political instability and reduce security in the country, which could lead to a situation of fear and insecurity throughout the country. For example, a crisis like the one in 2006 could happen again.

3) It gives an ugly image to the international community, especially the investors we hope will come to develop industry in our country. Timor-Leste will lose confidence from the international community.

4) If some continue not to comply, not to follow the law like this, it creates an atmosphere of inequality before the law, where anyone may ignore the law. This can create an image that the law is only applied to poor and small people, but not to important ones.

By comparison, when sovereign organs truly comply with the decision of the Appeals Court:

5) It will save some money for the State Budget for 2009, which according to a Press Release is $681 million. This budget takes $589 from the Petroleum fund, once more $181 million above the ESI (which the Government estimates at $406.8 million).

6) If will create a good image for all Timorese people and the international community that Timor-Leste, as a democratic state under law, truly values the Constitution and all other laws. This will give confidence to investors and others to trust that the law in Timor-Leste will protect their rights and responsibilities. It will show that the law applies to everyone, not only small people.

After looking at these impacts, we from Civil Society offer the following recommendations:

1) All sovereign organs of the state must understand their powers and functions, to follow all laws in force in Timor-Leste, especially to comply with this decision from the Appeals Court.

2) The Government must stop using the Economic Stabilization Fund, according to the decision of the Court.

3) We ask the National Parliament, as part of their monitoring function, to ensure that the money from the ESF is returned to the state budget, and to prevent the 2009 and future budgets from following a similar scenario.

4) Nobody, neither national leaders, political party leaders, academics, or civil society in general, should politicize this decision. They should put the national interest above their personal or political interests.

5) All our people should obey decisions of the courts, and actively participate in strengthening Timor-Leste’s judicial system.

6) We encourage everyone, including civil society, to continue to demand that all sovereign organs comply with this court decision. We also encourage citizens to communicate with their representatives in Parliament, to strengthen each Parliament Member’s function and power under the Constitution.

7) As everyone knows, the media has an important role in developing this country, and we recommend to all media to communicate information professionally, according to independent and impartial principles of journalism.

8) The President of RDTL should consider his function and power according to Constitution Articles 74.1 and 149. As the Head of State, he should find a way to truly symbolize national unity, maintaining the validity of all laws.

9) Semi-autonomous agencies, especially the Banking and Payments Authority (BPA), should implement the decision of the Appeals Court, in regard to their function of managing the Petroleum Fund.

Dili, 26 November 2008.

Signed by
Together with the Timor­Leste NGO Forum:
NGO Hafoti
Fundasaun Balos
Timor Visaun
TL Comp
La’o Hamutuk
Asosiasaun HAK
Habitat Timor-Leste
Ass. Estrela da Esperansa
Rede Hasatil

East Timor – A fragile state

Review essay by Dr Clinton Fernandes, UNSW@ADFA The UN in East Timor: Building Timor Leste, a Fragile State, by Dr Juan Federer, Charles Darwin University Press, 2004.

Published in Dissent magazine, No 27, Spring 2008.

There has been a plethora of commentary about East Timor. Unfortunately, much of it has been inadequately informed and sensationalist. However, there is a book that deals with the underlying forces affecting the country. It is well informed and clearly written, and its author is uniquely placed to offer penetrating insights about his subject. It is, unfortunately, not very well known. That book is “The UN in East Timor: building Timor Leste, a fragile state” by Dr Juan Federer. This essay will review Dr Federer’s book and highlight some of its salient points.

Federer, who worked closely with the most prominent spokesman for East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, was a Latin American diplomat who lived in Jakarta. He visited East Timor in Portuguese times and had planned to live there in due course. The Indonesian invasion changed all that. He married an East Timorese woman and became a crucial figure behind the scenes of that country’s independence struggle for more than two decades. His fluency in Indonesian, Portuguese, Tetum, English, French and Spanish, combined with his ability for hard work and rational, unsentimental thinking has given him a superb command of his subject.

As the Director-General of International Relations for the National Council of Maubere Resistance (known by its Portuguese initials, CNRM), Federer dismisses the image of unity and organisational cohesion promoted to the world during the independence struggle. He writes that CNRM was never more than a concept whose real significance lay in its ability to satisfy the international community’s expectations of a cohesive liberation movement. It served as a legitimate contact point with the promoters of self-determination in the UN and other international bodies. Federer shows that despite its international acceptability, the wider public inside East Timor never consistently accepted CNRM. It was never properly set up, nor did it have periodic meetings, nor adopt policy decisions. But it was “a necessary and useful symbol, which allowed us to fit into expected international moulds as a representative national liberation movement.”

In order to unite all East Timorese in the diaspora, CNRM would be renamed CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance). It too was a poorly functioning outfit whose real value was the appearance it gave outsiders that a cohesive liberation movement was in existence. Federer notes that “much attention was given to devising pompous sounding titles and the creation of enough of them to co-opt all the vociferous East Timorese pro-independence activists. Little or nothing existed in terms of substantive constitutional documents, definitions of functions, work procedures, information and reporting mechanisms, or work programs and their implementation.”

The point of such groupings was to “keep alive the fiction that the East Timorese resistance was a well-constituted pro-independence movement, and as such that the struggle fitted into moulds the world could understand.” A crucial CNRM proposal was its peace plan, which argued for a three-phase process to end the conflict with Indonesia. In Phase One, which would last for one to two years, Indonesia-Portugal talks would be held under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, with East Timorese participation. Political prisoners would be released and Indonesian military personnel would be reduced. In Phase Two, there would be a period of autonomy lasting five years, with the possibility of extension for another five years by mutual agreement between Indonesia and the East Timorese population. This would be a transition stage in which East Timorese would govern themselves democratically through their own local institutions. Phase Two would prepare the East Timorese for any future decision on self-determination, ensuring that they would have the technical skills required to mange themselves, their society and their economy. In Phase Three, which would last for a year, preparations would be made for a referendum on self-determination with the population being allowed to choose between independence and integration with Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the collapse of the Indonesian economy and the resignation of President Suharto led to a rapid decision by his successor, President Habibie, to give East Timor a “take it or leave it” offer of autonomy within Indonesia. Should they reject it, they would be granted independence. The CNRM peace plan, which had called for seven to twelve years of preparation prior to any such ballot, was shelved and East Timor broke free within nine months of Habibie’s offer. Its exit was accompanied by an Indonesian military campaign of state-sponsored terror and crimes of universal jurisdiction including systematic and mass murder, destruction, rape, enslavement, forced deportations and other inhumane acts.

Federer writes that “while CNRM and its successor CNRT had been useful symbols to portray the East Timorese opposition to Indonesian occupation as being akin to a conventional pro-independence movement”, they became dysfunctional “once the invader had been removed.” CNRT “conveyed an illusory and misleading appearance of a modern organisational maturity of the East Timorese pro-independence population.” After the departure of the Indonesian troops, Federer and Horta grew deeply concerned with the way the international community was fitting the East Timor situation into a conventional, post-colonial independence framework. As Federer points out, the situation there was actually quite unique: “there was little cohesive organisation and leadership available” there was a traumatised population whose values, especially its civic ones, had been severely damaged by a long, destructive occupation following a most rudimentary [Portuguese] colonial presence that had done virtually nothing to prepare the country to take its place as a viable member of the international system of sovereign states.” Horta, he writes, was “quickly made to realise by some veto-holding UN Security Council members that an international tutelary presence to prepare the country for successful independence” would not be available for the ten or more years required at a minimum but only two or three years at the most.

The command of military operations was formally transferred from the peacekeeping force that liberated East Timor to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). It is important to understand that UNTAET did not assist the administration of East Timor but was itself the administering authority. Composed of personnel from more than 100 countries (with the language and cultural problems this implied), UNTAET was immediately confronted with several major problems. Although East Timor had been promised approximately US$500 million in development aid, it had received only US$22 million by March 2000. The funding shortage exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Indonesian authorities’ widespread destruction of the territory’s infrastructure, their evacuation of staff who had previously provided essential services, and their deportation (ethnic cleansing) of 250,000 East Timorese across the border into West Timor. Furthermore, the Indonesian occupation had caused the deaths of nearly 200,000 people. Unsurprisingly, there was a humanitarian crisis.

Federer reminds us that “despite the efforts of their leaders to portray it otherwise, and the often-heroic performance of the resisting population, the East Timor armed resistance did not defeat the occupier and was an almost depleted force in the end.” Indonesia’s departure was the result of a complex international diplomatic and political campaign “in which the military resistance activity was a mere token component.” Therefore, “unlike in decolonization cases where the resistance movements generally became the legitimate and uncontested recipients of sovereignty, the East Timor resistance was not the obvious recipient of sovereignty.” Led by the Transitional Administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, UNTAET’s military component was disproportionately large, with nearly 9,000 troops and 200 military observers. Rather than splitting the mission into an initial peacekeeping and humanitarian operation to be followed by a more important and long-term state-building mission, UNTAET’s emphasis was on peacekeeping and reconstruction, with less emphasis regarding the preparation for independent statehood. Yet there was almost no military threat facing the new state. Only a fraction of the total of 10,000 troops was ever needed. With military expenses being easily the highest cost component, a stronger emphasis on state-building would have saved money and prepared East Timor for the challenges of nationhood.

The UN did not focus on state-building in part because funding for peacekeeping missions comes from non-voluntary member-assessed contributions, thus opening such missions to member pressure for a speedy end. UNTAET was therefore put together very quickly. International staff were recruited “from the four corners of the earth to a remote country they had previously never heard of, whose history they did not know, to difficult living conditions, in a mission that was still disorganized and confusing, often on short-term contracts of three to six months.” Some staff were recruited “for their Portuguese language skills on the assumption that East Timor was basically a Portuguese-speaking land.” It wasn’t. Many staff spent the first months of their mission trying to acquaint themselves with East Timor and the last few months trying to either renew their contracts or find another job in some other post-conflict society. Also, as Federer reveals, many foreign personnel “had a strong incentive not to speed up local participation and thus do themselves out of a job, even though readiness to be replaced should have been the attitude of members of a transitional administration.” Federer shows that there was a “total lack of functioning social organisations and governance institutions” in East Timor. The only relatively organized institution that had survived was the Catholic Church. “All the other social ‘organisations’ were basically labels for groupings lacking a proper structure.” Federer cites the Portuguese expression pra o ingles ver (for the Englishman to see) in order to show how appearances were created in order to impress a critical, more powerful foreigner whose approval is sought.

UNTAET hired East Timorese civilians, but they were largely employed in low-level positions with little authority to make decisions. They received less than 1% of the total budget and were paid approximately 20-30 times less than the international staff, most of whom did not possess an adequate knowledge of East Timor’s socio-economic conditions. This resulted in much hostility, much of which could have been avoided “if a sense of inclusion and ownership” had been “fostered from the beginning by involving the people to a greater extent in the design of the Mission”.

More prominent, politically active East Timorese arriving from the diaspora, where they “had not achieved positions of much significance”, saw in all this an opportunity to exploit the political situation. They “began to exhibit a vociferously hostile position towards UNTAET and, following their instincts as politicians, quickly sought to capitalize on the popular discontent developing toward the new authority in East Timor”. They began to call for the termination of the mission and the transfer of its authority to themselves. They also presented themselves as “the local political counterparts that the UN was so keenly looking for to fit its existing operational models.” UNTAET “readily and uncritically yielded to the local challengers that emerged, allowing them to influence the independence timetable.” These individuals pushed for Portuguese to be adopted as the country’s official language, thereby maximizing their own advantage. By “introducing a linguistic barrier, they could exclude the non-Portuguese speaking Indonesian-educated youth from access to the top.” They also pushed for UNTAET to leave as soon as possible instead of calling for “greater resources and a longer-term international commitment to underwrite the essential, necessarily lengthy, institution and capacity building process.” All this “was music to the ears of those in charge of finances in New York, who had been pressing for a quick end” to the mission. In order to exonerate the UN from blame, “an exit strategy was quickly defined” and responsibility for success after independence (or blame for failure, as it happened) was laid in the lap of the East Timorese people.

Federer’s book may discomfit people who romanticize the East Timorese cause, but it is the most useful book I have ever read on East Timor. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand what happened as well as what can be done now.