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"Timor’s problems are common to nations whose independence was achieved through armed resistance. Indonesia endured this kind of instability for more than a decade, and similar problems have persisted in Papua New Guinea. In East Timor’s case, it was the harsh Indonesian occupation, and not the UN intervention or the failings of national independence that must bear most blame for today’s crisis. The east-west hostility is without historical foundation. In fact it flows from Indonesian occupation policy, in particular the special attention devoted by the occupying power to those adjacent to West Timor." James Dunn



Source:
http://www.etan.org/et2006/may/crisis.htm


The  East Timor Crisis: A Quest of Legitimacy?

James Dunn

29th May 2006


East Timor’s descent into violence and anarchy, and towards civil war, chaos came as a shock, including to this columnist who has been involved in the affairs of this community for more than 4 decades, especially their ordeal during Indonesia’s harsh occupation. It was deeply disappointing that a people who had endured so much in the recent past quarter of a century could countenance the violence that took place last week. It has led to insinuations, notably by Australian journalist Paul Kelly, that Australia should not have supported East Timorese moves along the path to independence in 1999. Timor Leste was now clearly a failed state whose people did not deserve independent nationhood. The territory, by inference, should therefore have remained under Indonesian control.

That shallow view should be dismissed. Timor’s problems are common to nations whose independence was achieved through armed resistance. Indonesia endured this kind of instability for more than a decade, and similar problems have persisted in Papua New Guinea. In East Timor’s case, it was the harsh Indonesian occupation, and not the UN intervention or the failings of national independence that must bear most blame for today’s crisis. The east-west hostility is without historical foundation. In fact it flows from Indonesian occupation policy, in particular the special attention devoted by the occupying power to those adjacent to West Timor.

The democratic system developed system under UNTAET’s tutelage, in which this columnist played a part, was, it must now be admitted, immature When independence came East Timor looked democratic, but the system had shallow roots. The East Timorese evidently welcomed the aims of democracy without fully understanding its political complexities, its frailties in adverse economic conditions like those endured by independent Timor Leste.  We gave insufficient attention to factors that were bound to threaten the functioning of democracy ­ the impact on a weak economy of the diminished foreign presence, with the reduction of the UN mission; the failure to establish a disciplined defence force unswerving in its loyalty to civilian rule. Then there is the time bomb character of continued massive unemployment, and the related urgent need for the new state to develop its fragile economy (those protracted Timor Gap negotiations were particularly unhelpful).

East Timor did have seasoned political leaders but some of them have let their people down. They impressed the international community, according the new nation an importance beyond its size, but recent events suggest that their international successes were not matched by achievements at home. Now is the time for a close scrutiny of the performance of East Timor’s political institutions.

While Australia’s response to the present crisis was commendably prompt, we need to reflect on past failings on our part, which may have contributed to the problem. Australia was among those nations who wanted the UNTAET mandate to end quickly, not least because of its cost, and it really ended too quickly. Australia was a major contributor to the training of the defence force, a sensitive process that began less than a year before independence, and apparently was less than successful, too little attention being given to persuading the military of the essential importance of accepting the severe constraints democracy places on the behaviour of armed forces.

The immediate causes of the dissent behind the dispute over promotion policies and other matters are clear enough ­ even understandable - but what is alarming is how the situation degenerated from a noisy protest to armed clashes between troops and police, the two essential arms of national security. With the police virtually immobilized, the situation in Dili became a scene of anarchic violence, with criminal gangs being joined by the hundreds of disaffected unemployed. It is a story of how a weak government response to a dangerous liaison involving rebellious troops, opportunistic crime gangs and disillusioned unemployed, allowed the triggering of a wave of violence that resulted in the collapse of public order, threatening the disintegration of the nation, even though the violence was more or less confined to the capital. Those of us who worked with the UN should have done more to prepare the system to deal with such a contingency.

Because of our past support for Indonesia’s illegal takeover, and its subsequent occupation, it is appropriate that Australia should now play a leading role in helping the new nation get back on its feet, and heal the wounds of last week’s violence. But our role should bear the legitimacy of a UN mandate. The presence of our troops, together with contingents of New Zealanders, Portuguese, and Malaysians has already done much to calm the situation in the capital, where the problem is most acute. But that calm will not endure if this peace-making presence is not accompanied by strong and united Timorese leadership.

As it turns out, the nation could be facing a divisive political crisis, some strains having developed in the relationship between President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. That crisis needs to be resolved quickly with, preferably, the forming a government of national unity that will restore the bonds of unity that have been fractured in recent weeks.

As I understand it, Kofi Annan, and the Security Council have agreed to the sending of a stronger mission to Timor Leste. That mission, in which I assume Australia will play a key role, should be empowered to strengthen those national institutions that failed the East Timorese in recent weeks. The political leaders of Timor Leste have to confront their failures, in the face of their responsibility to guide their people through these first difficult years of nationhood, if crises of this nature are not again to threaten the new nation with disintegration. Despite the worrying events of the past few weeks, the legitimacy of East Timor’s nationhood is not in question, as some have suggested. Creating a nation out of the ashes of 1999 was a massive challenge both to the international community and inexperienced East Timorese political leaders. In the circumstances this setback calls for something special on our part - our understanding, and our renewed commitment to support the fulfillment of the national destiny of a people with whom we have formed a special relationship.



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