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Posted to Timor Crocodilo Voador list on 9 July 2006: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/timorcrocodilovoador/
East Timor: the story
we weren't told
July 10, 2006
Former prime minister Alkatiri has been blamed for the chaos in his
country. But John Martinkus writes that Alkatiri's accusers haven't
explained who started the violence.
THREE weeks ago I was in East Timor, where senior members of the East
Timorese military confirmed what the now deposed prime minister, Mari
Alkatiri, has been saying all along: that there had been three attempts
since April last year to get senior army commanders to carry out a coup
against his government.
In light of what has happened since, it seems obvious. An orchestrated
campaign has brought down the government.
For reasons best known to themselves, the opposition to Alkatiri
enlisted the support of a group of junior officers in the F-FDTL (the
East Timorese defence forces), who broke with the army command and took
their weapons with them.
They attacked the F-FDTL on May 23-24, precipitating the widespread
unrest in Dili that led to the international forces being called in.
Then came the destruction of property by the gangs from the west,
mainly aimed at those from the east who are perceived as supporting the
Fretilin government. Then a string of allegations was presented to the
foreign (mainly Australian) media, which finally led to the prime
Whoever has been behind this campaign has covered their tracks, and it
will be difficult to link the interests involved to the destruction
that has resulted in 150,000 East Timorese living in refugee camps, too
afraid to go home. The plight of these people was used by opposition
groups to call for Alkatiri's removal, even though the same groups had
initiated the violence in the first place. It was a callous and cynical
political manoeuvre, to say the least.
But some obvious questions have not been answered by the Australian
media, who have been almost unanimous in their condemnation of
Fretilin, a party that, like it or not, had an overwhelming mandate to
govern until mid next year. It won that mandate in elections the UN
declared to have been free and fair.
First, who started the violence? In any other country, if a group of
disaffected soldiers took off with their weapons and then launched two
assaults on the army, as Alfredo Reinado's men did in May, they would
surely have been arrested.
Just imagine if a group of Australian soldiers went AWOL on a training
exercise in the Northern Territory, for example, and then shot at
soldiers pursuing them. They would be thrown in jail at best or shot
dead by a tactical response group.
But in this case, Reinado's men were given Australian SAS bodyguards
and remain free after handing back only a fraction of the weapons they
took with them.
Second, who were these gangs that overwhelmingly targeted the homes of
those from the east who were perceived as supporting the Fretilin
government? I asked the commander of the Australian forces in East
Timor, Brigadier Mick Slater.
"There were definitely groups, let's call them gangs, that were
definitely being manipulated and co-ordinated by other people from
outside that gang environment. I feel very, very strongly that that was
the case," he said.
Even after the resignation of Alkatiri, houses of Fretilin members and
those from the east were still being targeted and refugees threatened.
It revealed a lot about who had been behind the violence.
Third, who was making the allegations against Alkatiri and did they
stand up? After the violence subsided the opposition to Alkatiri seemed
to take a different tack.
There were the allegations and rumours of a mass grave with 60, 70, 80
or as many as 500 victims of an Alkatiri-ordered massacre — depending
how far down the rumour chain you heard the story.
Some media outlets ran with that story and those of us in Dili tried to
follow it up. There was supposed to be a list of dead held by a priest.
Then there wasn't, and the story fell by the wayside.
Next were the allegations by the so-called Alkatiri death squad, which
Four Corners reported on. Other reporters had been to see this group
and some had chosen not to report it.
They were located in the house of the Carrascalao family, but their
story didn't seem to be true.
The Carrascalaos are an established family in East Timor, who were
instrumental in the UDT party, which fought a brief civil war with
Fretilin in 1975. In short, these people have axes to grind.
There were other things about the death-squad allegations that didn't
make sense. When the F-FDTL base was attacked on May 24, men from that
same group took part in the attack alongside men from Reinado's group.
It was an inconsistency picked up by Alkatiri himself, who told me in
Dili: "What kind of secret Fretilin group is this that they are also
fighting against the FDTL? This is contradictory."
Not surprisingly, this question wasn't asked by those Australian media
outlets that had been baying for the prime minister's head since the
crisis began, and were terrified by the unanimous condemnation of
Alkatiri and afraid to break ranks.
In short, those who had been trying to find East Timorese officers to
act against the government look as if they have succeeded, but at the
cost of the dislocation of 150,000 Timorese. Surely it would have
simply been easier to wait for next year's elections.
John Martinkus has been reporting on
East Timor since 1995. His book A Dirty Little War: An eyewitness
account of East Timor's descent into hell 1997-2000 was shortlisted for
the NSW Premier's Award.
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