Poverty and desperation fuel East Timor's latest crisis

Peter Boyle peterb at dsp.org.au
Thu Dec 5 22:10:47 MST 2002


[East Timorese police have arrested 80 people over the last
few days and left groups like the PST are concerned about a
general clampdown on the opposition. Urgent solidarity may
be required soon.]

Poverty and desperation fuel East Timor's latest crisis

Statement by Action in Solidarity with Asia & the Pacific
(ASAP), 6 December 2002

Check <www.asia-pacific-action.org> for updates

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific is alarmed,
but not surprised, at the violence that has erupted in East
Timor in recent weeks. It is directly linked to the growing
nation-wide frustration at continuing high unemployment,
poverty and corruption in the Fretilin-led government.

ASAP has received many reports from East Timor pointing to a
growing frustration with the Fretilin government,
particularly the recent heavy-handed actions of police to
quell social unrest. The concerns include the lack of:
government transparency; democratic processes; employment
opportunities; and rising poverty.

In a highly critical speech at the November 28 Independence
Day commemorations, President Xanana Gusmao castigated the
government for being "dazzled with power". He continued:
"The notion that the legitimacy to govern Timor Leste only
belongs to some, not only reveals arrogance but also a lack
of political maturity and a complete lack of understanding
of the difficulties our country is facing."

Gusmao called on the government to dismiss the Minister for
Internal Affairs, Rogerio Lobato, who is responsible for
police, for "incompetence and neglect".

The role and composition of the East Timorese police force
is a major source of contention. There is considerable anger
over the significant number of police who have links with
the former Indonesian regime, including police chief Paulo
Martins. Many East Timorese are angry that former Falintil
resistance fighters - many of whom are unemployed and
without skills or qualifications - do not constitute a
larger component of the police force.

Deep frustration has been building across East Timor for
some time and the shooting of a high school student on
December 3 was the trigger for the latest protests. Police
had attempted to forcibly remove a student from class over
allegations that he was involved in a gang-related incident.
Both the teacher and classmates refused to allow the police
to take the student away. The teacher was beaten by the
police.

On December 4, high school and university students plus
members of East Timorese NGOs and political parties gathered
to meet with representatives from parliament to express
their concerns over the police actions of the previous day.
At least another four people were shot dead as police fired
into a crowd of unarmed demonstrators. Many more were
injured when police attacked a demonstration of around 500
people with clubs and tear gas as it approached the police
headquarters.

The police shootings in Dili came on the heels of similar
confrontations in East Timor's second largest city, Baucau.
On November 26, police killed a man taking part in a
3000-strong demonstration heading towards the Baucau police
headquarters.

On December 5, Socialist Party of Timor General Secretary,
Avelino da Silva described the situation in Dili as "very
tense" . "It is like it was under the Suharto
dictatorship'', he said, citing indiscriminate arrests and
police threats to close down offices of all opposition
parties.

Da Silva believes the government's inquiries into the riots
is "just a cover for the police''. He warned that this was
an "attack on democratic rights, supported by the media''
and called for an international campaign from progressive
and solidarity organisations "to defend human rights and
democracy''.

Poverty, discrimination between Timorese and Westerners in
employment, as well as the inadequate infrastructure, are
fueling the anger - especially among East Timorese youth. It
is not surprising that this frustration is expressed not
just in organised protests but also in attacks on government
buildings, banks and foreign-owned businesses, particularly
in the wake of police provocations.

The latest tragedy highlights the newest independent
nation's desperately poor status. Yet, this hasn't stopped
Canberra from attempting to steal the nation's much needed
income from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. By
ignoring international covenants, Canberra is trying to
coveting tens of billions of dollars in royalties through
the Timor Sea Agreement, royalties that East Timor
desperately needs.

As if to add insult to injury, Canberra is currently trying
to force 1,600 East Timorese refugees who have established
their lives in Australia back to East Timor.

On December 5, Prime Minister John Howard announced that
Australia would be providing more aid to the East Timorese
police force. If Canberra was serious about assisting East
Timor, it would stop trying to steal its resources and boost
economic assistance to the new nation. War reparations are
rightly due to our poor neighbour which waged a heroic
25-year struggle against Indonesia's occupation, supported
by Australia.

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