Thursday, June 01, 2006

Stalemate in Dili

Despite the support of mighty Australia, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao seems unable to finish off his rival, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. For days now Gusmao and his allies have been openly calling for Alkatiri's resignation; their calls have been echoed and amplified in the Aussie media and in the statements of members of John Howard's government and diplomatic corps. But Alkatiri is clinging on grimly: at a marathon Council of State meeting in Dili yesterday he refused to jump. He retains many supporters in East Timor's Cabinet, and also in the rump of its official army. The best that Gusmao has managed to win so far is official command of the army and the dispersed official police force for thirty days. Whether such powers mean much right now is debatable.

Meanwhile, 'negotiations' between Aussie-led troops and 'rebel' 'commander' Alfredo Reinado have ground to a halt, and violence has continued in Dili. Eyewitness reports suggest a curiously erratic approach to the restoration of law and order on the part of Aussie troops: in some cases the Aussies have fired shots at gangs of looters, but in other cases they have stood back and allowed the gangs to go about their business. Some on the anti-intervention left are suggesting that the Aussie grunts have orders from on high to allow the violence in Dili to rumble on, in order to increase pressure on Alkatiri to resign. I certainly think that Reinado's refusal to 'surrender' has been Okayed by Australia, and is intended to increase the pressure on Alkatiri, but I don't think the Aussies have an interest in seeing Dili continue to burn. I think that the intervention in East Timor is first and foremost a 'police' action by Bush's Deputy Sheriff in the Asia Pacific region, and that continued disorder and threats to foreign assets and investments would therefore be a severe blow to John Howard's credibility. The heavy weather Howard's boys are making is already encouraging some misgivings in interesting places.

The World Socialist Website may be a little wrong in its account of the exact nature Australia's motivations in East Timor, but it has produced a very good article about the likelihood of the recolonisation of the Solomons being used as a model for East Timor, if Australia succeeds in stabilising the situation in Dili.


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