Friday, June 30, 2006

Meddling while Dili Burns

'The town is pretty much deserted now', ABC journo Peter Cave reported from Dili yesterday, in the wake of a new outbreak of rioting and a new exodus of refugees. The Anzac 'peacekeeping' force seems to be following the practice of the American general who talked of destroying Vietnamese villages in order to save them. It is unlikely, though, that the peace of the grave was what those East Timorese who naively welcomed the Anzacs a couple of weeks back were hoping for.

There is no doubt that the Australian-led intervention force is struggling to control events in East Timor. They have been unable to establish political 'stability' by resolving the power struggle between ousted Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmao. Although Alkatiri has been forced out of office, he has in recent days managed to mobilise supporters from the east of the country, and he retains a base of support in the Fretilin organisation. Gusmao and his ally Jose Ramos-Horta have leaned so heavily on the Australian government for assistance, and have employed such flagrantly extra-constitutional tactics in their power grab, that they seem to have shored up Alkatiri's support within the party.

The departure of the Prime Minister responsible for the April 28th massacre in Dili has only opened up a new political vacuum, because according to the constitution Alkatiri's successor must be chosen by Fretilin, which dominates East Timor's parliament. Gusmao does not dare to ask the party to choose Alkatiri's successor, because he knows that his buddy Ramos-Horta will fail to win the votes of most of Fretilin's parliamentary representatives. Fretilin may even restore Alkatiri to the post of Prime Minister. Gusmao and Ramos-Horta face a stark choice: they can either back down and abandon their power grab, or they can even more flagrantly ignore the constitution, and turn their attack on Alkatiri and his close allies into an attack on all their opponents in Fretilin. Gusmao's refusal to organise a vote for a new Prime Minister suggests they are so far following the second course of action.

The continuing political impasse in East Timor and the frustrations of Gusmao and Ramos-Horta help to explain the behaviour of Anzac troops in recent days. These 'peacekeepers' did little to intervene as pro-Gusmao mobs began a new round of riots, attacking refugee camps inside Dili that held pro-Alkatiri civilians and burning shops and houses. In some cases, the failure of the Anzacs to protect civilians was undoubtedly an expression of their own incompetence and lack of resources. There must be a suspicion, though, that at least some of the attacks carried out by pro-Gusmao forces have been tolerated by Anzac forces because the Australian government wants to strengthen Gusmao's position within Fretilin.

Despite their stated policy of allowing all peaceful protests, the Anzacs devoted precious manpower to blockading a protest march by Alkatiri's supporters on the eastern fringe of Dili for several days. At the same time, Gusmao's rather less than peaceful supporters rampaged through the city, driving pro-Alkatiri residents out of the city and chanting slogans like 'Kill the communists!' Alkatiri's supporters seem to have been allowed into Dili only now that the residents they might have mobilised have been dispersed, and the chances of building a demonstration large enough to pressure Gusmao into abandoning his power grab has been lost.

The Anzac forces have shown their blatant pro-Gusmao bias by blaming Alkatiri for provoking the riots of recent days. Apparently Alkatiri's refusal to retreat quietly from the political stage after resigning as Prime Minister and his call on supporters to march on Dili are responsible for the attacks on refugee camps. The impatience of the Anzac forces with the refusal of Gusmao's opponents to accede to his coup is palpable, and Australian left-wing analyst Michael Berrell may be right when he warns that the riots of recent days may foreshadow a pogrom resembling the hideous aftermath of Shuarto's anti-communist coup in Indonesia in 1965.

Despite the overwhelming evidence for the self-interested and cynical nature of John Howard and Helen Clark's latest 'humanitarian mission', the Australasian left has done little to make East Timor an issue. In Australia, the Labor and Green parties are firm backers of the reoccupation of East Timor, and the largest far left organisation, the Democratic Socialist Perspective, has taken the absurd position of neither supporting nor opposing Howard's new military adventure. In New Zealand, the tiny Communist Workers Group and Communist League remain the only organisations to have staged anti-intervention events. The latest issue of the Workers Charter newspaper exemplifies the confused response of the Australasian left to the crisis in East Timor. Workers Charter draws attention to the cynical nature of the Anzac occupation, but it also runs an article calling for leftists to take their lead from the tiny and completely compromised 'Socialist' Party of Timor, an organisation which is energetically promoting Howard's intervention!

It is not as though John Howard and his boss George Bush are popular figures in Australasia. This week tens of thousands of Australian workers rallied to oppose Howard's anti-union legislation. The occupation of Iraq is incredibly unpopular in both Australia and New Zealand. But the left and the workers' movement have done little to relate the occupation of East Timor to Howard's anti-worker agenda at home and his role in Bush's imperialist adventures in the Middle East. It may take an escalation of the crisis in East Timor and the return of Anzac troops in bodybags to spark widespread opposition to Howard and Clark's local exercise in imperialism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great site!

11:25 am  
Blogger Himself said...

It may take an escalation of the crisis in East Timor and the return of Anzac troops in bodybags to spark widespread opposition to Howard and Clark's local exercise in imperialism.

I don't know about NZ, but it'll need a lot of dead soldiers to change attitudes about Timor here. Racist-imperialism towards Melanesia is utterly ingrained, as evinced by the displays of borderling pro-invasion sentiments among all but the furthest left here.

11:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, what a wind bag you are, "imperialist" this n that.

You sound like one of those insufferable bores called Communists back in the days of the Cold War.

Get off yer self-hating liberal ass/arse and go drink a beer and give thanks to the fact that the West decides to go into these countries and not the Soviets/Chinese.

8:58 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I bet "anonymmous" is really Maps!

But I am amazed at the stupidity of people - if you asked people why we were in East Timor (or even where it was - well I would have a bit of troubeon that myself - they wouldn't realy have any rational (or very intelligent)answer.

Of course it's a tragedy and so on - but it is not a part of NZ or Australia as far as I know.

Maps is right -behind it is pressure from the US Imperialists to head off the Chinese/Japanese etc (from the vast resources and potential human market/labour pool I believe they need or feel they need to be close to a country full of huge reserves of oil, tin, rubber, timber et al. It's nothng to do with "glory" or humanitarianism.

As well as France in Tahiti et al, the US and allies (Britain, Australia, NZ) etc are/have been plundering the Pacifc nations for about 50 years - and other European nations such as Holland and Portugal etc for a longer time. Places such as Nauru and Ocean Island (Kiribati) - where my grandfather worked for the British-Australian and NZ Phosphate Company - were devastated (after the war the place had no coconunt trees or very little and the place was so bad the Islanders had to move off completely) and later eg the Marshall Islands were evacuated forcibly by the US (esp the Bikini Islands for nuclear tests) - NZ troops killed demonstators in Samoa and Australian and NZ troops assisted the US in the Vietnam and Korean invasions - another example is of course is the decimation of Easter Island the exploitation of Fiji by various British- Australian companies. Some stupid father was moaning about his son killed in driver training (by incompetent methods used by the NZ Army) and said "He could have been in in East Timor!! (I expected some statement about the stupidity of armies). As if East Timor was some kind of El Dorado...amazing...he wanted his some to survive the NZ army's strange system (a kind of organised suicde mission by the looks of it) and then go and kill or get killed in country that has never attacked us (as Iraq had never attacked or threatened the US)- some glorious and mysterious mission which some who would make his - would have made his son glorious. Tragic.

12:15 am  
Blogger Richard said...

This is an interesting link - via the CIA - about East Timor

Here is an interesting statement on this link page -

"...The development of oil and gas resources in nearby waters has
begun to supplement government revenues ahead of schedule and
above expectations - the result of high petroleum prices -
but the technology-intensive industry does little to create jobs
for the unemployed, because there are no production facilities in Timor
*and the gas is piped to Australia*... "

So a slight motivation for Australia to dispute with Indonesia!!

12:35 am  

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