was also keen to keep out of the political grip of Australia
as led by John Howard, George Bushs 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 Dilis
bit of the Timor Sea.
February this year trouble was brewing in the East Timor army, FDTL.
The disaffected soldiers were almost all from the countrys 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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
negotiations between the dissidents, Ramos-Horta and President Xanana
Gusmao failed. The dissidents trashed the markets at Taibessi. Matters
dragged on without resolution.
now, a world-weary student of the arcane art of the military coup
detat, might have suspected no more than that rogue elements
of the Indonesian military were fishing in troubled waters.
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 Canberras 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).
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.
didnt go on strike with the first group of soldiers. He waited
until after the 28 April demonstration. In early May he criticised
the armys 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
doesnt like the term rebel.
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
Friday 19 May the push to replace Alkitiri with Jose Luis Guterres,
Timors 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.
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.