Timor-Leste: textos importantes
by Maryann Keady
May 31, 2006
Three years ago, I wrote a piece talking about attempts to oust PrimeMinister Mari Alkatiri in East Timor, then a new strugglingindependent nation. I wrote that I believed the US and Australia weredetermined to oust the Timorese leader, due to his hardline stance onoil and gas, his determination not to take out international loans,and their desire to see Australia friendly President Xanana Gusmaotake power.Three years later, I am unhappy to say that the events I havepredicted are currently taking shape. The patriotic Australia media,that has unquestionably fallen into line over every part of JohnHoward's Pacific agenda - including the Solomon's excursion - is nowtrumpeting the ousting of Alkatiri, a man who has gamely defiedAustralia's claims over it's oil and gas, many of the paper's foreigneditors clearly more in tune with the exhortations of Australia'sDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade than the sentiments amongTimorese.I arrived in Dili just as the first riots broke out on April 28 thisyear- and as an eyewitness at the front of the unrest, the very youngsoldiers seemed to have outside help - believed to be localpoliticians and 'outsiders'. Most onlookers cited the ability of thedissident soldiers to go from an unarmed vocal group, to hundredsbrandishing sticks and weapons, as raising locals' suspicions thatthis was not an 'organic' protest. I interviewed many people - fromFretlin insiders, to opposition politicians and local journalists -and not one ruled out the fact that the riots had been hijacked for'other' purposes. The Prime Minister himself stated so. In a speech onthe 7th of May, he called it a coup - and said that 'foreigners andoutsiders' were trying once again to divide the nation. I reportedthis for ABC Radio - and was asked if I had the translation wrong. Ipatiently explained no - we had carefully gone through the speech wordfor word, and anyone with any knowledge of Timorese politics wouldunderstand that is precisely what the Prime Minister meant. No othermedia had bothered to go to the event - the Australian mediapreferring to hang out with the rebel soldiers or Australian diplomatsthat all wanted Alkatiri 'gone'.Since his election, Alkatiri had sidelined the most important figurein Timorese politics - President Xanana Gusmao - and the tensionbetween the two has been readily apparent. Alkatiri, has a differentview to Gusmao about how the country's development should take place -slowly, without 'rich men feasting behind doors' was the way hedescribed it to me, a steady structure of development the way todevelop a truly independent nation. His ability to defend Timor's oiland gas interests against an aggressive Australia and powerfulbusiness interests, and his development of a Petroleum Fund to protectTimor's oil money from future corruption never accorded with thecaricature created by his Australian and American detractors of a'corrupt dictator.'The campaign to oust Alkatiri began at least four years ago - Irecorded the date after an American official started leaking mestories of Alkatiri's corruption while I was freelancing for ABCRadio. I investigated the claims - and came up with nought - but wasmore concerned with the tenor of criticism by American and Australianofficials that clearly suggested that they were wanting to get rid ofthis 'troublesome' Prime Minister. Like Somare, he was not doingthings their way. After interviewing the major political leaders - itwas clear that many would stop at nothing to get rid of Timor's firstPrime Minister. President Xanana Gusmao, three years ago, did notrule out dissolving parliament and forming a 'national unitygovernment'.Gusmao and his supporters (including Jose Ramos-Horta) have privatelycalled Alkatiri an 'Angolan communist' with his idea of slow paceddevelopment not something Gusmao and his Australian supporters agreewith. Other than that, it is hard to work out why President Gusmaowould allow forces to unconstitutionally remove this Prime Minister.In Timor, many see Gusmao at fault here, for disagreeing with thePrime Minister over the sacking of the soldiers (it should have beenresolved in private) while others see him as the architect of thewhole fiasco, his frustration with his limited political role allowinghim to be convinced by his Australian advisors to embark on aneedlessly bloody coup.In the last few days we have heard from young Timorese writerscurrently at the Sydney Writer's Festival. They have a different takefrom the Australian media on what is happening in Timor. Take thisquote by one young writer:'. it is suspicious and questionable. It is difficult to analyse whyAustralia wants to go there. I think it is driven by concerns overAustralia's economic security, including the oil under the sea, ratherthan concern for the people of East Timor. 'I am scared it is lessabout East Timor's security than Australia's security and interests.'Gil Gutteres, the head of Timor's journalists association TILJAsimilarly last month said old style fears of communism, and economicinterests of Australia were driving the anti-Alkatiri campaign, andwere behind the violence. In fact, there is hardly a person in Timorthat doesn't understand that this is about big politics - helped byinternal figures wanting to control the oil and gas pie.And yet the Australian press is full of 'our boys' doing us proud.This does not equate with sentiment on the ground, or answer thequestion as to where the rebel forces could have received support forthis foolhardy campaign that has led to many Timorese beingfrightened, distressed and homeless.Just this evening, witnesses spoke of Australian army personnelstanding by while militia fired on a church in Belide. During theearly violence, not one UN soldier intervened to stop the small bandof rioters, and the recent actions of the Australian troops add fuelto speculation that they are letting Timor burn.Alkatiri, for his part is refusing to step aside, saying that onlyFretlin, his party, can ask him to resign. If he does go, the Timoresehave the Australian media to thank for their unquestioning support ofthis coup. Perhaps they can explain to the starving citizens (thatwere already ignored by Australia for 25 years) why Australia nowcontrols their oil and gas. More importantly, the politicians in Timorthat have been party to the violence will have to explain to thepeople their involvement in this latest chapter of its traumatichistory.Maryann Keady is an Australian radio producer and journalist who hasreported from Dili since 2002. She is currently a professionalassociate at Columbia University's Weatherhead Institute looking at USForeign Policy and China.