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Topic: Crisis in East Timor


Sister Susan Connelly,

Assistant Director of
Mary MacKillop East Timor

Mary MacKillop East Timor (MMET),
formerly Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies (MMIETS)

Phone: 02 9623 2847

About Mary MacKillop East Timor:

"Ba Ami Nia Belun Sira" [For Our Friends]
Newsletter for Friends and Benefactors

Vol. 13 No. 2 June 2006

[BD note: This article has been edited slightly.]

Complete Article and Newsletter:


We are saddened by the unrest in East Timor. It is troubling to hear of the political instability, the fear and hunger of the people, the mayhem wrought by the gangs, the prevalence of weapons, the sweeping power of rumour, the paralysis of the Government, the suffering of the injured, the terrible loss of the dead.

So many people are trying to make sense out of the swift descent into disorder which has engulfed East Timor. There was so much promise, despite the difficulties. Now, so much re-building has to be done again. The replacement of houses and shops will be easier than the stabilising of a severely traumatised people and the return of general confidence.

Mary MacKillop East Timor is directly associated with many people and groups across the country. Our Timorese staff, associates and friends, as well as the teachers, students and families we support are all suffering and we want to be able to continue to bring to them the practical assistance required to make life liveable again. ...

Some points on the causes of the situation:

Timor’s recent past:

It is not unusual for states emerging from a violent colonial or oppressive past to experience deep instability. It is Australia’s good fortune not to have had this experience.

The populations of those nations like East Timor which have had to make huge sacrifices to gain democracy suffer great trauma for a considerable time.

Whereas here in Australia major catastrophes are dealt with using the expertise of numerous counsellors, in East Timor such help is unknown. Indeed, there is hardly any mental health assistance at all.

In 1999 East Timor voted overwhelmingly to choose independence from Indonesia rather than autonomy within it, thus ending 24 years of occupation during which 183,000 people died violently as a result of the oppression. Although over 400 Indonesian persons have been indicted for crimes against humanity committed during that time, not one has been brought to trial. Instead, most have been retired or have been promoted in Indonesian civil or military administration. Every Timorese family has experienced deep trauma from the occupation but they know that no one has been called to account.

Justice has not yet been done, and the suffering of the Timorese has therefore been belittled.

Some commentators have said that the present unrest means that Timor should not have gained independence. Such a shallow view suggests the belief that the Timorese should have remained under the control of the power which caused them so much grief.

Timor’s Independence:

From the referendum of 1999 to Independence in 2002 Timor was administered by the United Nations which worked with future leaders to ensure a smooth transition of power. Many now believe that the UN withdrew too quickly and did not allow enough time for the principles and processes of democracy to take root. It is an observable fact that the level of administrative and management skills among Timorese people is very low, a legacy of 450 years of Portuguese colonial rule which left an illiteracy rate of 98% in 1974 when Portugal suddenly withdrew, and of Indonesian unwillingness to train or employ Timorese in those positions which would have broadened the skills base among them.


During the United Nations administration the economy boomed with the presence of large numbers of wellpaid UN staff but then experienced an equally sudden down-turn when they left. Such immense changes added to the fragility of Timor’s new but weak economy, a situation further undermined by massive unemployment.

To the credit of the current leaders, Timor has resisted taking out loans from the World Bank or the IMF, thus resisting the debt-trap which curses so many developing countries. Timorese leaders also drove a hard bargain with Australia over the resources of the Timor Sea, securing a 50-50% share of the lucrative field Greater Sunrise when Australia would have been happier with the 18-82% it had proposed, (the 18% destined for Timor). However, any difference this has made to the poor has yet to be seen. Efforts to improve nutrition, clean water, sanitation, roads and building materials should be the priority for any Government wishing to address the poor state of health of the Timorese people.

The many protracted negotiations over the resources of the Timor Sea were necessary for the Timorese people to secure what was rightfully theirs, but the time, money and effort expended could well have been used to address the more immediate plight of the people. That Australia saw fit to challenge Timor’s access to resources which are so close to Timor, contrary to current accepted international practice, adds to Australia’s responsibility to help redress Timor’s history. The services of our troops should be seen more as a just repayment of longstanding debts than any hint of “super-hero to the rescue”.

Current Crisis:

The fairly widely-held perception of corruption and croneyism within the East Timorese administration has been crowned with the failure of that Government to deal with grievances within its security forces, resulting in mutiny in the military and the police and a complete breakdown of order. Tens of thousands of people are internally displaced in and around the capital and they are hungry, angry and scared.

Many news reports attribute much of the trouble to ethnic rivalries, with bad feeling being shown to exist between those from the east (Loro Sa’e) and those from the west of East Timor (Loro Monu). Such rivalry does exist but it is more a product of Indonesian manipulation during the occupation than a long standing fact of Timorese life and culture. History and current affairs show that the vast majority of those who seek to wield and maintain power often orchestrate disturbances based on existing divisions within society.

There are many questions arising from the state of turmoil in East Timor. These include questions about the suitability of current leadership, the involvement of outside forces and the place East Timor’s independence has regarding West Papua’s difficulties and aspirations.

As events unfold, no doubt some answers to these and other questions will be made clear, and perhaps others questions will arise.

In the meantime, we have to re-group in order to make a response to the people whom we work with that is worthy of both them and us. We believe that we have two priorities at this time:

1) To see to it that our Timorese brothers and sisters have the means of decent livelihood so that they can consolidate and reenergise themselves and thus be ready to assist others. Such compassionate care has always been part of our way of operating, but this crisis calls us to multiply our efforts. Our literacy and health work will continue but the calls for material assistance will increase and we want to be able to meet the needs.

2) To assist with East Timor’s deep underlying social questions regarding justice. It is of paramount importance that the trauma of the past 30 years be addressed openly and courageously, both to honour the reality of Timor’s past and to ensure that similar abuse of other small and weak peoples is prevented. To this end, Mary MacKillop East Timor has joined ACTJET (Australian Coalition for Transitional Justice in East Timor) which will seek to address the many recommendations in the recent Report on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.

Mary MacKillop East Timor:

Ph: (+61 2) 9623 2847
Fx: (+61 2) 9623 1573
PO Box 299 St Marys NSW 1790
20 Mamre Road St Marys 2760
PO Box 427 Dili Timor-Leste

Mary MacKillop East Timor (MMET)
formerly Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies (MMIETS)

This info last updated: 4 July 2006

MMIETS is a Sydney and Dili based charitable institute established in 1994
by the Religious of St. Joseph (the order of the Blessed Mary MacKillop - Australia's first and so far the only saint officially recognised by the Roman Catholic church) in response to an appeal for help by Bishop Belo (Diocese of Dili) and in consultation with the East Timorese community. It was created to assist in meeting the cultural, educational, health and material needs of the people of East Timor. MMIETS is safeguarding East Timorese culture by promoting the use of the language Tetum within the Church and general education and is developing a Tetum literacy program to this end. 

Director of MMET:
Sister Josephine Mitchell, RSJ (Religious of St. Joseph - "Brown Joey's")

Assistant Director of MMET:
Sister Susan Connelly, RSJ

Reception / Secretarial:
Noreen Nicoara

Supervisor of Linguistics & Editor of Tetun Materials (based in Dili):
Father Leão da Costa, Director of Catholic Education, Fundação São Paulo

Tetun Oral & Literary language expertise (based in Dili):
Father Ricardo da Silva, Bishop of the Diocese of Dili
Father Ricardo was born in Dare, East Timor and has been speaking Tetun all his life.

Linguist, Educator (based in Dili):
Sister Teresa (Tess) A. Ward, FDNSC (Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart)

Timorese Tetun language expertise (based in Sydney):
Luisa da Cunha Marques
Filomena de Oliveira

Health worker/educator, Nurse:
Sister Joan Westblade, LCM (Little Company of Mary)

MMET - Sydney, Australia:
20 Mamre Rd, St Marys
PO Box 299, St Marys NSW 1790
Phone: 02 9623 2847
Fax: 02 9623 1573

Institutu Mary MacKillop - Bekora, Dili Timur, Timor Lorosae:
New larger premises now located in Bekora.
PO Box 427, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin)


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