Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fancy another trip to the country, while the foreigners get on with it?

Sparks must have flown yesterday when East Timor's new government met for the first time since the Australian-led military intervention, and the supporters of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri faced off against the faction led by President Xanana Gusmao. Alkatiri reportedly opposed the decision to invite Australian-led foreign troops into East Timor, and he has also resisted Gusmao's attempts to take command of the army and police. For his part, Gusmao is now openly calling for Alkatiri's resignation, and is being echoed by the Australian government and the Murdoch press.

Gusmao and the Australians suggest that 'major changes' in the government (Gusmao's elevation to Prime Minister?) and the isolation of all armed groups in rural cantonments are the keys to peace in East Timor. This is not the first time Gusmao has used the word cantonment. In 1999 he helped thrash out an agreement that was intended to see Indonesian-backed militia and Falintil troops confined to separate rural bases during the period when a referendum on independence was held. When the militia defied the agreement and continued to roam East Timor at will, Gusmao insisted that Falintil troops must keep their side of the bargain. The result was that the East Timorese people were left largely defenceless in the face of the militia onslaught that followed the referendum. (The minority of Falintil troops that left their cantonments and took on the militia scored easy victories over their poorly armed and trained opponents. I'll talk more about this in a later post.)

In 1999 Gusmao was happy to trade the deaths of a thousand East Timorese civilians for the Aussie-led intervention that installed Fretilin as the ruling party of East Timor. Today he once again advocates cantonment for selfish reasons. Cantonment will not affect the small gangs of criminal youths roaming Dili, and it will leave East Timor's security at the mercy of a foreign force which knows nothing of local cultures and is controlled by an Australian government dedicated to the exploitation of East Timor.

Gusmao knows this, but he also knows that he lacks a large base in the armed forces - despite what many in the media are saying, the Australian-trained, pro-Gusmao Alfredo Reinaldo comands only a relatively small force of military police, not the large original group of mutinous soldiers known as 'the petitioners'. Gusmao did have a base of supporters in the police, but the police are very badly armed and many of them have been scattered by the violence of the past few days. The 130 'rebels' who have given up their arms to Aussies are likely to be Gusmao and Reinaldo supporters.

Cantonment is a way for Gusmao to take his rivals - the Alkatiri loyalists in the official army, and the original group of mutineers - out of the picture, and allow him to use the Australian-led intervention force to consolidate a new government. The price of a Gusmao Prime Ministership is certain to be even greater Australian control over Timorese affairs. If Gusmao is successful in forming a new government, then I predict its Finance and perhaps Defence Ministries will be effectively controlled by Australian 'permanent secretaries', along the lines of the arrangement that was imposed on the Solomons by Australia and the IMF in 2002.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fairfax papers are also pretty anti-Alkatiri. At least the Sydney Morning Herald. Which is not to say it is very enlightening on the political details at all.

2:29 pm  

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