EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Timor crisis - Alkatiri's murky role
, June 10, 2006
Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin party is responsible for much of the misgovernment and criminal behaviour which has provoked the current violence in East Timor. The recent violence in Dili, capital of East Timor, is not a civil war, but the collapse of a corrupt government. The crisis commenced with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's dismissal of 600 of the Army's 1,400 troops after they had gone on strike alleging they had been subject to systematic discrimination.
The sacked troops staged demonstrations in Dili which turned violent when the army loyal to Alkatiri, former Fretilin guerillas, turned their weapons on their former colleagues. Subsequently, the sacked troops went into the hills, and some time later attacked an army camp.
Alkatiri's army then turned on the police force, during which a number of unarmed police were shot dead by armed troops.Marxist party
After winning independence in 2002, East Timor has been governed by Fretilin - an acronym for Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor - the political party which won power briefly in 1975 following a civil war, and which waged guerrilla war for 24 years after Indonesia invaded.
In elections conducted in 2001 for a Constituent Assembly, Fretilin, the only party with effective organisation, won 55 of the 88 seats and has controlled the government since that time.
However, there has been little improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Local industry is almost non-existent; most people are unemployed; and services such as telephones and electricity are non-existent outside the capital, Dili.
There have been widespread allegations of corruption against leaders of the new government, particularly Mr Alkatiri, who spent the war years in communist Angola and Mozambique. Alkatiri's relatives have been given diplomatic postings (one was ambassador to Malaysia).
In 2004, Mr Alkatiri categorically denied allegations by Oceanic Exploration and its subsidiary Petrotimor that he was offered or accepted US$2.5 million from ConocoPhillips Petroleum to secure their investment in the Timor Sea.
Mark Aarons, son of a former general-secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, and for many years an activist in the pro-Fretilin campaign in Australia, highlighted the misgovernment which has occurred under Alkatiri.
He wrote in The Australian
recently that, before the East Timorese people voted for independence, "Alkatiri's main work in exile was to move among Timorese refugees, organising Fretilin cells and giving ideological direction in preparation for running the country".
He added, "Alkatiri has held power for almost five years, during which time stories of nepotism, corruption and authoritarianism have been too persistent to be lightly dismissed. The struggling public service seems to have been stacked with Alkatiri loyalists.
"Merit and ability have not been the main criteria for job selection. This has undermined professionalism, politicised the civil service and sown the seeds of resentment, disaffection and now revolt.
"Alkatiri's shortcomings do not end there. Authoritarianism, of an eerily Stalinist kind, has too often been the Government's response to dissent.
"The means used by Alkatiri to ensure his recent re-election as Fretilin leader illustrate the point. By replacing a secret ballot with a show of hands, he not only thwarted his challenger, but actually undermined democracy in order to proclaim his own 'democratic' victory.
"The malaise in governance and the endemic abuses of power are also personified by Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, brother of resistance hero Nicolau Lobato who was killed by the Indonesians in 1978. I knew Rogerio in 1976 as a swaggering Fretilin commander.
"He helped me obtain tens of thousands of dollars in Mozambique to keep an illegal radio connection operating with East Timor, which I smuggled into Australia, risking a lengthy prison term.
"A few years later, Rogerio was jailed in Angola for smuggling diamonds, not to assist his country's struggle but to enrich himself. Lobato's appointment to a sensitive post in Alkatiri's Government was an important warning sign. The recent allegation in UN cables that he spends much of his time managing his own business affairs is consistent with his criminal activities in Angola.
"Yet he was put in charge of the country's security apparatus. Little wonder that elements of the forces within Lobato's circle have been heavily involved in the [gang] violence."
Aarons added that "some Fretilin leaders are certainly behind the mismanagement and violent criminal behaviour that have caused and been featured in the current crisis". (The Australian
, March 28, 2006).
Until a new government emerges which is not corrupt, and not beholden to either Fretilin or Indonesia, the poor people of East Timor will continue to suffer cruelly. The challenge for the people of East Timor is to find a way to achieve this. - Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.