Neo-Cold War Politics 101


The current situation in East Timor makes me think of my first year American Politics essay: ‘The American President as Actor; the American Actor as President: Discuss’. With Ronald Reagan at the helm, it wasn’t difficult to write 10,000 words.

Avid East Timor-watchers of the past few years can be summed up in three ways:

Those who think Xanana Gusmao and Ramos-Horta are the Good Guys and the Australians are Bronzed Aussie Battlers Saving the Day; those who think Fretilin and Mari Alkatiri are the Good Guys and the Aussies are Mad Marauding Imperialists; and those who think rebel-on-the-run Alfredo Reinado deserves an Academy Award and the United States a screenwriting credit.

The third camp consists of me and possibly some cynical locals who shall remain nameless.

Of course, we are led to believe that the violence in the country is the result of a national divide; that the United Nations and Australia are necessary to guide the country from its roughshod independence; and that the leaders are fighting mad at each other and the country on the brink of disaster.

Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not.

What follows is an interview with East Timor’s Opposition leader Mari Alkatiri, former Fretilin Prime Minister and a man I have in the past said will one day win ‘Best New Political Talent’ in the Asia-Pacific, and make a run for the Mahathir/Keating ‘Verbal Molotov Cocktail’ trophy.

His vigorous denunciation of East Timor’s Australian-led International Stabilisation Force and their political partiality almost makes me want to bring him over to the United States to help Hillary wipe the White House clean.

In fact, since Bracksy is helping advise President Xanana Gusmao, perhaps Mari can help St Kev land a few weighty punches in this arena?

More seriously, who’s asking the important questions about Australia’s role in East Timor? It has been reported that you think that East Timor’s Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) is illegal. Why?

Mari Alkatiri: Every agreement between two countries needs to be ratified by the Parliament: this is our constitution, our law. And the agreement I myself signed on the 26th of May last year was never tabled to the Parliament to be ratified.

Why wasn’t it? You were Prime Minister at that time.

I had to resign and [Jose] Ramos-Horta became Prime Minister. He or Xanana Gusmao should have tried to table it for ratification.

So you’re effectively saying that this is an emergency law that hasn’t been adopted as law in the country, and therefore needs review. Is that right?

Not an emergency law. It was a bilateral agreement between Timor-Leste and Australia and, it needs to be ratified.

It needs to be ratified within [East Timor]?

I have no doubt about this. This agreement needs to be ratified otherwise all the actions of all the forces in Timor Leste are illegal. It means that when the forces are called to act against a group and kill somebody it would be considered a crime.

So you are concerned about the legal nature of Australia’s role in East Timor?

I am a lawyer myself so I am concerned about the legal matters of the agreement.

But what legal problems do you see? At the moment [the troops]are providing security to East Timor.

This is the fact of the situation. But they need to be backed by a legal agreement.

Are you unhappy with the ISF and their role in the country?

Most of the forces are not impartial. They have been taking sides since they have been there, this is clear, and we have facts to prove it. I witnessed myself some actions of the forces.

Do you think people might see this as a bit of political posturing by you after losing the elections — a case of sour grapes?

I didn’t lose the election I won the election!

But you are no longer the Prime Minister of the country.

But I won the election. This is amazing. You need to investigate clearly [how this happened]. All of the Australian media was saying before that Xanana would win for sure 50 per cent but he lost the election. He only got 24 per cent of the vote. We [Fretilin] won the election. This is the reality.

Are you effectively saying that Xanana Gusmao is not the legal head of the country at the moment?

For sure. He is not legitimate.

I want to go back to the ISF, why are international troops needed at all in East Timor? We are five years from independence and despite the very small population there seems no end to the violence.

We invited the United Nations, we invited Australia and other countries to come in to help us resolve the problems. Not to come in and take part in our political domestic problems.

What evidence do you have that they are involved in the political processes or your domestic problems?

I am talking openly because I have evidence. The recent evidence is when the Australian forces took Fretilin flags and tried to intimidate the population in [the city of]Bacau. If they are going to be impartial, it is better for them to go home.

So you’re demanding a withdrawal of the ISF?

I am demanding that the presence of Australian troops in the country be based on law, and [that]they be impartial.

Under your Prime Ministership there was violence, you did not contain the violence

They only gave me two weeks to contain the violence. And now they have been over a year in power and they have not resolved the violence until now.

But what would Fretilin do differently? You had quite a long while to resolve tensions within the country.

You are completely wrong. Under four years of my governance the country was really peaceful. And suddenly a violent group emerged and found a way to overthrow the government. This was a clear coup. It is a conspiracy.

You’re saying that it was an illegal attempt to remove you from power?

Of course! There is no doubt on this.

Why would Australia want to remove you from power and why would the ISF be involved in political activities against you?

Ask them why they did it. [Perhaps] because the resources we got from oil and gas, because we initiated an aggressive program for the development of the country.

Is there the possibility that this has to do with far greater geo-political issues such as the growing power and might of China within the Asia-Pacific?

You are completely wrong. There is no Chinese influence in Timor-Leste.

So this is completely domestic?

You are completely wrong. This is the problem of the media. They are not trying to get the truth. They are trying to be part of the whole propaganda against Fretilin and myself.

There is not a single concession for China in Timor-Leste. Not a single one.

How do you see the current Government differing from your Government?

The current Government is a group of people that don’t even know how to govern the country. Why do you think they are different?

Xanana Gusmao has in the past talked about and been part of closer ties with Australia.

That is why you are happy now. Because Xanana Gusmao is closer to Australia …

So you think Australia would be happier with Xanana as Prime Minister because he would favour better relations with Australia?

You said that. Not me.

Thanks for your time Mr Alkatiri.

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