From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Brushtail Graphics

Made in Australia
Countdown to East Timor’s subcontract coup d’etat

29 May 2006

The one thing East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri didn’t want was for his small dirt-poor nation to be caught in the vise-like grip of the World Bank and its so-called “economic reforms”. Consequently, Alkatiri declined to accept their offers of loans. That was a fundamentally smart strategic decision, but it probably doomed his leadership.

Alkatiri was also keen to keep out of the political grip of Australia – as led by John Howard, George Bush’s self-described “deputy sherriff” in South-East Asia. He saw the importance of charting an independent course, so he oriented his fledgling economy towards the Chinese and the Europeans. In 2004, for example, he gave CNPC, the Chinese oil company, a contract to search for oil and gas in Dili’s bit of the Timor Sea.

From February this year trouble was brewing in the East Timor army, FDTL. The disaffected soldiers were almost all from the country’s west, were mostly young, and included few who fought Indonesian occupation before 1999. In March, they went on strike supposedly over pay, conditions and discrimination in favour of troops from the east, the hard core of whom are former guerrillas from the liberation struggle. Only later did it gradually emerge in the mainstream media that the striking group included former pro-Indonesian militiamen.

On 16 March the armed forces chief, on the instigation of Alkatiri, sacked around 600 of the striking soldiers. They took to the bush, threatening guerrilla warfare. Negotiations with them dragged on with little result.

On 9 April, World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz visited Dili. In a disarming speech, full of kind words, he said East Timor had made dramatic steps forward. He was eager to encourage development of the private sector and called for “simple rules for doing business” (code words for enforcement of low wages and the ability to export all profits).

“The stark reality is that in almost all cases, oil wealth has been a curse for developing nations more than it has been a blessing. It has often been associated with corruption, entrenches social divisions, increased poverty, even violence”, Wolfowitz said.

The neo-con leader should know. He was one of the main architects of the US invasion of oil-rich Iraq, from which, cynics allege, an avalanche of corruption, social divisions, increased poverty and even violence resulted.

On 28 April the sacked troops demonstrated in Dili and were joined by unemployed youth. They had now been engaged in threatening and often violent demonstrations for some days. Mainstream media reports would later quietly admit that the Colimau 2000 gang “an organization suspected of links to anti-independence militias” (according to the US State Department) were involved in the demonstrations. The 28 April demonstration went ahead in spite of the fact that the government had offered the leader of the sacked soldiers, Gastão Salsinha, a commission of inquiry made up of representatives of the presidency, the government, parliament and the high court. The demonstration turned violent and loyal FDTL troops opened fire killing several.

Subsequent negotiations between the dissidents, Ramos-Horta and President Xanana Gusmao failed. The dissidents trashed the markets at Taibessi. Matters dragged on without resolution.

Until now, a world-weary student of the arcane art of the military coup d’etat, might have suspected no more than that “rogue elements” of the Indonesian military were fishing in troubled waters.

But then, in early May, Australia made its move by way of Major Alfredo Reinado, commander of a military police group and who, we may surmise is Canberra’s catspaw. Hailing from the western provinces, Reinaldo, having reportedly been out of the country during the last years of the Indonesian occupation, returned toTimor in 1999 with the Australian Interfet troops (in exactly what role is still obscure).

Major Reinado could hardly claim he was one of those “westerners” passed over for opportunities and promotion. Having joined FDTL he was trained in Australia and, over the last three years, was a frequent visitor, attending Australian Defence Force courses, including one at the prestigious Staff College. The good major had plenty of “legitimate” cover for liaising with Australian spooks and plotting against Alkitiri.

Reinado didn’t go on strike with the first group of soldiers. He waited until after the 28 April demonstration. In early May he criticised the army’s handling of the matter and defected, taking with him a few men and a lot of heavy weapons. He soon denounced Alkatiri as a “communist” and called for Australian intervention. He now admits he commanded the rebel soldiers fighting in Dili, but he doesn’t like the term “rebel”.

On May 12, John Howard, shortly before flying to Washington, announced a military build-up in northern Australia in preparation for a possible move to East Timor. This reinforced pressure on the ruling Fetilin party congress, due to begin on 17 May, to drop Alkatiri as prime minister.

On Friday 19 May the push to replace Alkitiri with Jose Luis Guterres, Timor’s ambassador to the US and the UN – a manoeuvre openly backed by sections of the Australian media – failed. Alkatiri moved that the challenge to his leadership be voted on by open show of hands rather than in a secret ballot. The motion passed and Alkitiri was then overwhelmingly endorsed by the delegates. The European Union immediately granted East Timor $US30 million. On the following Monday, Alkitiri granted five of six oil exploration contracts to ENI, an Italian energy company.

The coup attempt then moved into high gear. With the arrival of Australian troops imminent, the plotters attempted to seize Dili and overthrow Alkitiri who negotiated frantically for Malaysian and Portuguese intervention as a counterweight to the Australians. In “restoring order” the Australian contingent would “realistically” have to recognise whoever was in control of the capital. Alkatiri, sensing assassination, moved into hiding. His loyalist forces hit back hard at the plotters. The stage was set for a further round of tragedy.