[TimorLesteStudies] Joseph Nevins in Asian Survey: T-L in 2006

Jennifer Drysdale jenster at cres10.anu.edu.au
Sun Mar 4 13:07:06 EST 2007

 From ETAN

>Asian Survey
>A Bimonthly Review of Contemporary Asian 
>Affairs  University of California Press
>Vol. XLVII, No. 1, January/February 2007
>The End of the Post-Independence Honeymoon
>Joseph Nevins
>Sporadic sociopolitical violence plagued 
>Timor-Leste for much of 2006, a manifestation in 
>many ways of the festering wounds associated 
>with Indonesia’s war and occupation. This 
>violence spurred both international military 
>intervention in an attempt to restore order and 
>also a change in government, aggravating an 
>already difficult socioeconomic situation.
>World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, a former 
>U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, in April 2006 
>visited Timor-Leste (the official name of East 
>Timor). Before leaving Dili, the country’s 
>capital, he lauded the “considerable progress 
>the Timorese people have achieved” since 1999. 
>The country’s bustling markets, the rebuilt 
>schools, the functioning government—and above 
>all, the peace and stability—attest to sensible 
>leadership and sound decisions,” he continued. 
>“[M]any countries coming out of conflict lapse 
>back into it within five years. It is to your 
>credit . . . that your future is now one of hope 
>and opportunity, not one of unrest and hopelessness.” 1
>Months later, National Public Radio in the 
>United States told of a just-completed visit to 
>Dili by officials from the Pentagon’s Pacific Command. According to
>1. Paul Wolfowitz, “Closing Press Conference in 
>Timor-Leste with Paul Wolfowitz,” World Bank, April 10, 2006.
>the October 26, 2006, report, the officials 
>“[l]ike other international observers who have 
>come here,” left the country “concluding that 
>East Timor is a failed state, with leaders who are unlikely to fix it.” 2
>The dramatic shift in international elite 
>assessment of Timor-Leste grew out of violence 
>that claimed dozens of lives, displaced over 10% 
>of the country’s population, led to a change in 
>government, and polarized much of the country 
>along geographical lines (among other axes) 
>while leading to the reintroduction of foreign 
>peacekeeping troops. The violence exploded in 
>the period from late April through May, but its 
>ugly manifestations continue to linger. The year 
>2006 was deeply troubling for Timor-Leste, a 
>period that reflects fragile and insufficiently 
>developed state institutions, 3  missteps by 
>members of the country’s political elite, 
>factionalism within and divisions between the 
>military and police, and massive unemployment. 
>More broadly and significantly, the violence 
>manifests the deep wounds related to the 
>destruction, dispossession, and physical and 
>socio-psychological trauma—and an associated 
>sense of injustice—brought about by Indonesia’s 
>1975 invasion and almost 25-year occupation.
>A Legacy of Socioeconomic Insecurity
>Two reports that passed through the hands of the 
>United Nations in January 2006 provide a basis 
>for understanding the violence and instability 
>that plagued Timor-Leste for much of the past 
>year. The first was a report from the United 
>Nations Development Program (UNDP), which 
>characterized Timor-Leste as chained by 
>poverty.” According to the publication, 90 out 
>of 1,000 children there die before their first 
>birthday, half the population is illiterate, 64% 
>suffers from food insecurity, half lack access 
>to safe drinking water, and 40% live below the 
>official poverty level of 55 U.S. cents a day. 4
>In terms of the UNDP’s human development index, 
>Timor-Leste is Asia’s worst-off country. The 
>second study was the final report of the 
>country’s Commission for Reception, Truth, and 
>Reconciliation. Called Chega! (Portuguese for 
>Enough! or Stop!), the document details many of 
>the worst atrocities committed during 
>Indonesia’s reign over the tiny territory. These 
>include widespread torture, extrajudicial 
>killings, “disappearances,” politically created 
>famine, indiscriminate bombing, and “thousands” 
>of acts of sexual violence. The commission established
>2. John Hendren, “U.S. Admiral Inspects the 
>Disarray of E. Timor,” National Public Radio, October 27, 2006.
>3. See Juan Federer, The U.N. in East Timor: 
>Building Timor-Leste, a Fragile State (Darwin, 
>Australia: Charles Darwin University Press, 
>2005); Morgan Mellish, “U.N. Efforts Amount to 
>Castles in the Air,” Australian Financial Review, July 26, 2006.
>4. UNDP, The Path out of Poverty: Timor-Leste 
>Human Development Report 2006 (Dili, Timor-Leste: UNDP, January 2006).
>that there were at minimum 102,800 Timor-Leste 
>an civilian deaths—mostly from hunger and 
>illness—because of Indonesia’s invasion and 
>occupation. The report also advanced a figure of 
>201,900 as the maximum number of possible 
>conflict-related civilian deaths—out of a 
>population of less than 700,000 in 1975. 5
>While the deleterious economic effects of such 
>violence and the associated dispossession of 
>people are impossible to measure, such 
>consequences help significantly to explain the 
>current plight of the economy that, beyond the 
>nascent petroleum sector, enjoys negligible 
>foreign investment. Today, coffee is 
>Timor-Leste’s only non-oil export of any 
>significance. In 2004, its exports were valued 
>at only $7 million, 99% of which came from 
>coffee. And the non-oil economy is actually 
>shrinking in absolute terms because of the 
>withdrawal of many United Nations and international aid personnel.
>Revenues from exploitation of the oil and 
>natural gas reserves in the seabed between 
>Timor-Leste and its neighbor to the south, 
>Australia, are estimated to be almost $1 billion 
>in 2006. The vast majority of such funds are 
>deposited in a “Petroleum Fund” for long-term 
>development needs. It will take considerable 
>time to utilize the funds to meet those needs 
>given the weakness of the state, among other challenges.
>Fractured Politics
>Chega! presciently warned that “the deep 
>divisions in our society from 25 years of 
>conflict, and the violence which entered East 
>Timorese political life in 1975, remain a 
>potential stumbling block to the development of 
>a sustainable culture of democracy and peace in 
>Timor-Leste.” These factors, combined with the 
>country’s poverty, massive unemployment, and 
>pervasive trauma—about one-third of its 
>population suffers from post-traumatic stress 
>disorder 6 —provided the fertile soil that 
>allowed what in many other countries would have 
>been a manageable protest by elements of the 
>military to explode into protracted violence.
>The short-term roots of this violence lie in 
>January 2006, when members of Timor-Leste’s 
>armed forces wrote to President Xanana Gusmão, 
>complaining of mismanagement and discrimination 
>against soldiers from the country’s western 
>region. In early February, these 
>soldier-petitioners, now numbering over 400, 
>abandoned their barracks, an act that led to the 
>eventual dismissal by Taur Matan Ruak, the 
>military head, of 594 soldiers, a move supported 
>by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
>Violence erupted on April 28 when demonstrating 
>soldier-petitioners and their supporters 
>attacked the Government Palace and later clashed elsewhere
>5.  Chega! , final report of the Commission for 
>Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation in Timor- 
>Leste, Dili, 2005, http://www.etan.org/news/2006/cavr.htm.
>6. See J. Modvig et al., “Torture and Trauma in 
>Post-Conflict Timor-Leste,” Lancet 356, November 18, 2000, p. 1763.
>in Dili, resulting in at least five civilian 
>deaths and the burning of many homes. The 
>government’s deployment of troops to help 
>restore order, combined with rumors that quickly 
>took root of a massacre of 60 persons by the 
>military, heightened tensions further.
>An additional group of military and civilian 
>police, led by Major Alfredo Reinado, abandoned 
>their posts in protest of the military’s April 
>28 deployment. This group ambushed soldiers and 
>police three weeks later on May 23, killing 
>five. Over the next two days, violence exploded 
>in Dili, with petitioners and elements of the 
>police engaging in armed battle with the 
>military. Individuals attacked the home of Army 
>chief Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak, killing 
>one civilian, and set fire to Minister of the 
>Interior Rogerio Lobato’s house, killing six. 
>The deadliest incident involved soldiers firing 
>on unarmed police under U.N. escort, slaying 
>nine. Large-scale clashes between “eastern” and 
>“western” gangs also took place. It was in this 
>context that troops from Australia, Malaysia, 
>New Zealand, and Portugal intervened.
>Revelations that the interior minister and 
>defense minister had distributed weapons to 
>civilians led to the resignation of both 
>officials on June 1. Meanwhile, members of the 
>political opposition to the prime minister and 
>to the governing party FRETILIN (Frente 
>Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente, the 
>Revolutionary Front for an Independent East 
>Timor) called for Alkatiri’s resignation, 
>alleging that he too had been involved in arming 
>civilians and organizing a hit squad to target 
>political opponents. Under great pressure, 
>Alkatiri resigned in late June. His former 
>foreign minister, José Ramos-Horta, took his place.
>According to a United Nations-established 
>Independent Special Commission of Inquiry, the 
>toll from the violence was at least 38 (mostly 
>civilian) deaths, 69 injuries, 1,650 homes 
>destroyed, and 150,000 internally displaced 
>persons, as Dili’s traumatized population fled 
>to safer locations in the capital and the 
>countryside. In terms of responsibility, the 
>commission found that the Alkatiri government 
>failed to follow established procedures when it 
>deployed the military on April 28; however, 
>investigators uncovered no evidence of the 
>rumored massacre or hit squad. In addition to 
>recommending the prosecution of Major Reinado 
>and others, the report urged that the defense 
>and interior ministers be held accountable for 
>transferring weapons to civilians. And although 
>the commission found no evidence that Alkatiri 
>was involved in the weapons transfer, it 
>identified evidence that gives rise to the 
>suspicion that he was aware that the transaction 
>took place but did not attempt to stop it. On 
>this basis, the commission recommended further 
>investigation of Alkatiri’s role to see if he 
>bears any criminal responsibility. 7
>7. United Nations, “Report of the United Nations 
>Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for 
>Timor-Leste,” Geneva, October 2, 2006, 
>http://www.ohchr.org/english/docs/ColReport-English. pdf.
>The commission also pointed the finger at 
>President Xanana Gusmão, who added dangerous 
>fuel to the would-be fire during a national 
>address two days after the cashiering of the 
>soldier-petitioners. Gusmão called their 
>dismissal unjust, while lending credibility to 
>their claim that the military’s major problem 
>was regional discrimination against soldiers 
>from the west of Timor by those from the eastern 
>region. Over the next week, many clashes broke 
>out in Dili between youth groups from both regions. 8
>Still in need of investigation are the roles 
>played by various figures from opposition 
>political parties and the Catholic Church, which 
>helped fan the flames that sparked 
>anti-government (and by extension, anti-eastern) 
>violence. Gusmão’s further role remains murky: 
>among other questionable activities, he 
>communicated with Reinado outside of official 
>channels after the major’s desertion. 9
>As of this writing at the end of 2006, about 
>70,000 citizens of Timor-Leste remain displaced 
>from their homes. Sporadic strife continues 
>among gangs along political allegiance fissures 
>and eastern-western lines—a divide of obscure 
>origin that hitherto had not resulted in any 
>political violence. 10 While the worst appears 
>to be over, the fraying of bonds of trust and 
>the deep internal divisions the conflict brought 
>to the surface and greatly exacerbated will 
>undoubtedly take a very long time to repair.
>International Relations: Dependence and Subservience
>The enduring presence of foreign troops 
>demonstrates how much Timor-Leste depends on the 
>so-called international community to support its 
>fragile state structure. At the same time, this 
>community has long been—and continues to be—the 
>source of many of Timor-Leste’s problems.
>Australia persists in occupying some of what, 
>under international law, appears to be 
>Timor-Leste’s territorial waters, thus denying 
>the country untold billions of dollars in oil 
>and gas revenues. Nonetheless, Timor-Leste’s 
>government felt compelled to sign a treaty with 
>Australia in January regarding the exploration 
>and exploitation of part of the disputed area. 
>This move stemmed from a determination in Dili 
>that the government could not afford to delay the influx
>8. Ibid.
>9. See, for example, John Martinkus, 
>“Timor-Leste: Evidence Mounts against Gusmão,” 
>New Matilda (Surry Hills, NSW, Australia), 
>September 20, 2006, see 
>idem., “Timor-Leste: Downfall of a Prime 
>Minister,” Dateline (SBS Television, Australia), 
>August 30, 2006; transcript at 
>10. See, for example, Tom Hyland, “The Tragedy 
>That Is Timor,” The Age (Melbourne), June 11, 
>2006; and Andrew McWilliams, “On East and West,” 
>Timor-Leste Studies Mailing List, http:// 
>of revenues, even though these will likely be 
>much smaller than if Australia were to permit 
>international adjudication of the dispute.11
>Meanwhile, 2006 saw no progress on matters of 
>justice and accountability for the crimes 
>committed against Timor-Leste during the 
>Indonesian invasion and occupation. Chega! has 
>called upon the international community to 
>provide unqualified support for strong 
>institutions of justice”—if necessary through an 
>international tribunal—to try these crimes, but 
>there has been no movement on that front. 
>Similarly, the Chega! recommendation that 
>Indonesia and Western countries that supported 
>Jakarta’s crimes should pay reparations, has led 
>nowhere. Timor-Leste’s government has soft 
>pedaled the report for fear of offending 
>Indonesia and its Western backers. This explains 
>why Gusmão and Ramos-Horta have rejected the 
>recommendations for reparations and an 
>international tribunal, instead persisting in 
>participating with Indonesia in a farcical 
>Commission of Truth and Friendship” charged with 
>establishing the truth regarding the violent 
>events that surrounded the 1999 U.N.-run ballot 
>by which Timor-Leste won its independence.
>11. See various issues of The La’o Hamutuk 
>Bulletin , publication of La’o Hamutuk (Walking 
>Together), the Timor-Leste Institute for 
>Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis, 
>http://www.laohamutuk.org/; and Joseph Nevins, 
>“Contesting the Boundaries of International 
>Justice: State Countermapping and Offshore 
>Resource Struggles between Australia and East 
>Timor,” Economic Geography 80:1 (2004), pp. 1­22.
>Joseph Nevins is Assistant Professor in the 
>Department of Geology and Geography, Vassar 
>College, Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.A. The 
>author would like to thank John Roosa of the 
>Department of History at the University of 
>British Columbia and Charles Scheiner of the 
>Dili-based La’o Hamutuk for their valuable 
>assistance. Email: jonevins at vassar.edu.
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