Monday, August 20, 2007

Aussies 'had better go home': Alkatiri ups the stakes in East Timor

The leader of East Timor's largest political party has denounced the Australian troops occupying his country, saying 'they had better go home because they are not neutral'.

Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary-General of the Fretilin party, made his call after Australian troops waded into an anti-government protest held in a village near the East Timorese capital Dili yesterday. The Aussies provoked fury by ripping down two Fretilin flags and wiping their backsides with them. Fretilin led the fight against both the Portugese and the Indonesian occupations of East Timor, and its flag is seen by many Timorese as a symbol of national independence. Fretilin vice-President Arsenio Bano backed up Alatiri's statement, saying that the actions of the troops reflected the 'cultural insensitivity and arrogance [that] typifies Australian military operations in the Pacific region'.

Yesterday's incident came amidst continuing protests against an Australian-backed government that is widely seen as illegitimate. Although it won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections held last month, Fretilin was snubbed by East Timor's pro-Australian President Jose Ramos-Horta, who invited his close political ally Xanana Gusmao to form a government. Gusmao and Horta's National Congress for Timorese Reconciliation party won only 22% of the vote in the elections, and Gusmao's inauguration as Prime Minister on August the 8th sparked big protests in Dili and in the eastern towns of Baucau and Viqueque.

When the Australian and New Zealand troops and police who comprise the majority of the UN-sponsored 'International Stabilisation Force' tried to shut the protests down rioting broke out. Vehicles carrying Anzacs were stoned, and buildings associated with the UN, the Australian government, and the CNRT were burnt. Ambushers fired shots at a convoy of UN vehicles on a road south of Baucau.

In some places criminal gangs joined in the riots, attacking civilians and churches and looting shops. In Baucau, a gang broke into a convent and raped several girls. The government and its Anzac allies have used the criminals as an excuse to launch a campaign of repression against their political opponents. In the four days after Gusmao's inauguration as Prime Minister, the International Stabilisation Force fired more than two hundred rounds of tear gas at protesters. Dozens of peaceful protesters were arrested for offences like 'blocking the road'.

Comparing protesters to the pro-Indonesian militia that killed hundreds of East Timorese in 1999, Horta and Gusmao have warned that civil servants who take to the streets could lose their jobs. Such a threat carries great weight, in a country where 50% of the population is unemployed and the public sector offers the best hope of well-paid work. The new government has also tried to discourage protesters by insisting that they must apply for a permit to march through public streets a full twenty-one days in advance.

Anzac troops and police have often been accused of using their muscle to interfere in the politics of East Timor. Fretilin complained about Australian harassment of its election workers and candidates during the elections earlier this year, and in February big protests broke out in Dili after Australian soldiers killed two youths who had been demonstrating against the destruction of a refugee camp near the city's airport.

Alkatiri was Prime Minister of East Timor until the middle of last year, when he was forced to resign by the Anzac force that had arrived in his country in the aftermath of rioting that killed thirty-seven people. Alkatiri and other Fretilin leaders have argued that the Australian government stirred up the riots, and then used Anzac troops to force him to relinquish power in favour of Horta.

The left-wing journalist and long-time observer of East Timor John Pilger has backed Alkatiri's claims. Pilger believes that the Howard government wanted a government in Dili which would agree to greater Australian control over the rich oil and gas reserves under the seas off Timor. Alkatiri had angered Canberra and its ally in Washington by playing hardball over the oil reserves, refusing to support Bush's 'War of Terror', and bringing Cuban medics to East Timor. Horta, by contrast, is an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq who calls John Howard a personal friend and has taken a conciliatory attitude in negotiations over oil.

Alkatiri has also found support for his complaints amongst the leaders of some of East Timor's neighbours. Last week, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare accused Australia of interfering in East Timor's politics, and warned that it was trying similar tricks in his country. The Solomon Islands is saddled with its own Anzac occupation, and its new, independent-minded Prime Minister Manasseh Sogovare has expressed his solidarity with Alkatiri.

Despite his hatred of the Howard government, Alkatiri has never before called so directly for the withdrawal of Australian forces from East Timor. An astute and often cynical political player, he has feared angering those parts of Fretilin who had hoped the occupation could be made to work in the party's interests. Alkatiri's new boldness and the ongoing protests suggest that the mood in Fretilin has turned decisively against accommodation with the occupiers of East Timor. Together, the illegitimate government in Dili and the Anzac troops that support it have alienated large numbers of Timorese. Arsenio Bano summed up the feelings of many when he said yesterday that the Australian government 'has had one overriding aim — the removal of the democratically elected Fretilin government and its replacement with the illegitimate government of Gusmao'.

The ongoing protests in East Timor should be a wake-up call to New Zealanders. Most Kiwis oppose the Howard government and the neo-colonial occupation it is helping George Bush maintain in Iraq, but few realise that their army and police force is helping prop up a similar occupation in East Timor. Kiwi troops and cops operate under Australian control in East Timor, and are supporting a government which is deeply unpopular. It is not surprising, then, that they are being targeted alongside the Australians. They should be withdrawn before they get sucked further into the escalating conflict between Australian imperialism and the East Timorese people.


Blogger fat old sod said...

Well, we'll know how large Fretilins support is by this time tomorrow. It should be interesting.

1:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Portugese translation:

3:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Media release
22 August 2007

Australian troops in the eastern districts of Timor Leste are engaged in a doorknocking campaign apparently aimed at intimidating Fretilin supporters to switch their allegiance to the new illegitimate government of Jose Alexandre Gusmao.

Fretilin today called for an independent investigation into written statements by many Timorese villagers testifying to political interference by Australian troops in recent weeks.

FRETILIN Deputy Secretary General Jose Reis said, "A joint investigation involving UNMIT and FRETILIN into the conduct of the Australian Defence Force is the only way to get to the truth and for the ADF to hope to re-establish the credibility it once had in

"FRETILIN is in the process of collecting written statements from people complaining about the behaviour of Australian troops.

"Also, a reputable local news paper Tempo Semanal today reported an incident involving Mr Fernando Soares, a 35 year old farmer and a well known Fretilin member in the village of Bucoli, Baucau district."

Soares said that about 8pm on Thursday 16 August a group of Australian soldiers accompanied by a Timorese interpreter arrived at his home and kicked on his door in order to get his attention.

A soldier who did not identify himself asked through an interpreter:
"Are you with FRETILIN or with AMP?" (AMP is the informal coalition in Parliament supporting the unconstitutional government of Jose Alexandre Gusmao)

Soares replied that he had been a long time FRETILIN member and continued to be so. The soldier then told him through the interpreter: "You should support the government and CNRT and influence these youths in your area to support the government and CNRT".

Reis said, "Somewhat surprised and scared because of the lateness of the night and having heard some reports of action by the soldiers against FRETILIN supporters, Mr Soares Fernando decided to say nothing further.

"The soldier and his companions left shortly after."

Reis said that for over a year now FRETILIN has been complaining about this type of questioning by ADF in patrols in Timor-Leste.

"During the first weeks of the crisis in 2006 after their arrival, soldiers were heard to be making statements like 'Alkatiri no good. Gusmao Good', 'L-7 no good. Gusmao good' and 'Taur Matan Ruak Fucking militia'."

L-7 is the alias for Cornelius Gama, a veteran resistance fighter from the district of Baucau in the east of Timor-Leste. Taur Matan Ruak is the army commander of F-FFTL, the East Timorese national defence force, who is also from the district of Baucau.

Reis said "The behaviour of Australian troops is unacceptable conduct for guests in our country who have been requested to help to re-establish law and order."

For further information: FRETILIN Media (+670) 733 5060 or

4:59 pm  
Blogger fat old sod said...

Bugger. Isn't it annoying when you throw a party and nobody comes.

8:30 pm  

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