Tuesday, May 23, 2006

East Timor crisis continues

After surviving an attempt by members of his own party to unseat him, East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has backed down from his hardline stance against opponents and agreed to participate in mediation with the rebellious soldiers who have set up camp in the country's hills. President Xanana Gusmao is to play a role as mediator. Alkatiri's conciliatory gesture has failed to prevent new outbreaks of violence in Dili, and Australian and New Zealand troops are on standby for deployment to East Timor.

There's been some discussion on indymedia about the left's response to the crisis in East Timor, and a United Front leaflet against intervention has been mooted. Reproduced below is a rough draft I've written. It is aimed at people on the left and active in organisations like the unions who may not be up with all the nuances of the Marxist view on East Timor but are nevertheless very suspicious of characters like Howard and Bush. I think the view we need to combat is the Green Party one which distinguishes between 'bad' imperialism in Iraq and 'good' imperialism in East Timor and the Solomons.


Once again Australia and New Zealand stand on the brink of a major military intervention in East Timor. Australia already has more than one hundred troops in East Timor, and four of its warships sit off the country's coast. New Zealand troops at the Burnham base outside Christchurch are on standby for deployment to East Timor.

The new intervention is being planned because the East Timorese government faces widespread opposition which it has struggled to suppress on its own. In February nearly half of the East Timorese army went on strike to protest at poor pay and conditions and the brutality of military commanders and the East Timorese police force. On April the 28th the rebel soldeirs staged a peaceful march to Dili, where they were joined by thousands of civilans at a protest rally. On the orders of Prime Minister Alkatiri, the police opened fire on the protesters and killed at least five of them. Since April the 28th the police have been hunting down rebel soldiers and their supporters. Reports suggest that scores of these opponents of the Alkatiri regime have been killed.

Australia and New Zealand want to prop up the government of Alkatiri and his Fretilin party. They want Alkatiri to stay in power because he protects Australasian business intersts in East Timor. In recent years a series of one-sided deals with Fretilin's corrupt leaders have given Australia control of the oil and gas reserves under the Timor Strait. Aussie companies earn billions a year from these resources, but East Timor receives only a pittance in royalties and its people remain very poor.

Plans for an intervention in East Timor are supported by the United States. John Howard is George Bush's most loyal ally in the Asia Pacific region, and Australia has been pushing Bush's policies aggressively in this part of the world. Howard has already organised a military intervention in the Solomon Islands, and deployed Aussie cops across Papua New Guinea. Like Bush, Howard believes in using the military to impose extreme right-wing policies on Third World countries.

The vast majority of New Zealand workers oppose the war Bush and Howard are waging in Iraq. The Council of Trade Unions voted to oppose any Kiwi involvement in the military intervention in Iraq. We should oppose the same sort of intervention in our part of the world. If it's wrong in Iraq, it's wrong in East Timor. The people who need our solidarity are not Alkatiri and Howard but the workers and peasants of East Timor, who are waging a just struggle against a brutal government and its supporters in Canberra, Wellington, and Washington.

Update: the new violence in East Timor is getting a lot of coverage in the Australasian media because Aussie journo David O'Shea has been caught up in some of it. O'Shea was apparently interviewing some of the military policemen who have defected to the rebel soldiers' cause - TVNZ describes them as 'renegades' - when they were attacked by 'loyal' East Timorese soldiers. O'Shea believes two of the rebels were killed. It seems, then, that the East Timorese security forces are still launching attacks on the rebels, in spite of Alkatiri's announcement of a peace process.


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