[Easttimorstudies] On Jacquie Siapno's comments

Damien Kingsbury dlk at deakin.edu.au
Thu May 4 16:33:04 EST 2006

Dear Friends,

There has just been a brief flurry about the accuracy or otherwise of Jaqcuie's
e-mail and whether or not it should have been posted. I'd like to offer some
observations on that, and the general situation.

Jacquie is obviously deeply involved with the PD. However, this does not
deligimise her observations. She is also a respected acadameic from Melbourne
Uni, whose PhD on women in Aceh was published as a book and is regarded as the
standard text on the subject. She has a political perspetive, but her views
cannot be dismissed on that basis. If we were to do that we would dismiss all
comments from all politically active people, which would include most of us, I

Jacquie specifically asked for this information to be made as public as
possible. To not do this would be an act of censorship, to whioch I am sure
none of us subscribe.

Jacquie may have the numbers wrong - or she might not. The obvious thing to do
is to also post rebuttals of her claims if there are any.

As we all might remember, numbers of deaths in East Timor have been claimed and
rebuffed for decades, and the general tendency is that they do end up being
confirmed closer to the higgher rather than lower numbers. That does not mean
this is the case now, but it would be callous to dismiss Jacquie's claims
without having first tested them. Clearly there is a major problem in East
Timor, and we need as much information about it made public as possible.

On the question of political activism, if it needs to be stated, when I was on
ABC radio on Tuesday morning talking about this, I said that I supported the
government of ET and that the striking soldiers were in the wrong. I have also
been interviewed by The Age and said that. Further, in my presentation to the
East Timor workshop last year I congratulated the government on its general
tolerance, especially towards the CDP-RDTL. So it is not as though I am against
the government.

However, this situation has clearly been mishandled by the government, from the
start to the current time.

Further, there is a serious and long-standing tension not just between groups
within the army, but between the police and the army, and between the
government and some former fighters. There have certainly been solid claims
that the Interior Minister has used his position and that of the police in ways
that are not for law enforcement purposes. I can't say this is fact, but I can
say that it was widely commented on in Dili, and elsewhere, including by
relevant UN staff.

I can however say as fact that BPU's in the border districts have been deeply
involved in corruption and cross-border smuggling, and that this could taint
soldiers located in that region, especially those that might have family or
clan ties across the border, which some do. Added to a sense that the army is
still a politial organisation, or has some political role (it is not and does
not), it is not surprising that soldiers who had grievances - legitimate or not
- went on strike. The problem is, soldiers can't go on strike. So they were
sacked. They still don't quite get how this works.

The real problem is, though, that beyond the sacked soldiers, and some
politically aware and active people who might also have been protesting, there
were certainly members of street gangs in the protest/riot. Some of these gangs
are linked back to smuggling operations which - yes, you guessed it - are
ultimately controlled by the TNI in West Timor. This is not to say that the
riot was a TNI plot or that the rioters are latter-day Aitarak etc. It is to
say that members of street gangs are vulnerable to disinformation and other
forms of subtle manipulation.

My real concern, however, is that events like this could deligitimse the
government. Even if it is just thrown out at the next elections, the bitterness
of a new government might not relfect in conventional democratic behaviour.
There is a real chance that, delegitimised, it could dig in. That would indeed
turn ugly.

The answer? I don't have it, I'm afraid. However, Australia pulling its troops
out of the border region at a time when the ET government still wanted them to
stay has certainly not helped the corruption/smuggling problem. A symbolic
presence, I think, would have (and still could) act as a stabilising influence.
This is not about neo-colonialism, and I am as angry about Australia's treatment
of East Timor over Timor Gap revenues as anyone. But Australia has played and
can continue to play a constructive role.

Secondly, the ET government needs to show its bona fides to those now in the
hills, and it needs to do so quickly and convincingly. Some genuine gestures of
reconciliation would be entirely appropriate right now.

Like you all, I only want the best for East Timor.

I certainly don't want to see it slide back into an August '75 situation.

With best wishes,


Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury
Director, Masters of International and Community Development
School of International and Political Studies
Deakin University
Ph: +61(0)439638834

More information about the Easttimorstudies mailing list