In my 1994
film, Death of a Nation, there is a scene on board an aircraft
flying between northern Australia and the island of Timor. A party
is in progress; two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne.
"This is an historically unique moment," effuses Gareth Evans,
Australia's foreign affairs minister, "that is truly uniquely
historical." He and his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, were
celebrating the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty, which would allow
Australia to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the seabed off
East Timor. The ultimate prize, as Evans put it, was "zillions"
collusion, wrote Professor Roger Clark, a world authority on the
law of the sea, "is like acquiring stuff from a thief... the fact
is that they have neither historical, nor legal, nor moral claim
to East Timor and its resources". Beneath them lay a tiny nation
then suffering one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th
century. Enforced starvation and murder had extinguished a quarter
of the population: 180,000 people. Proportionally, this was a
carnage greater than that in Cambodia under Pol Pot.
The United Nations Truth Commission, which has examined more than
1,000 official documents, reported in January that western governments
shared responsibility for the genocide; for its part, Australia
trained Indonesia's Gestapo, known as Kopassus, and its politicians
and leading journalists disported themselves before the dictator
Suharto, described by the CIA as a mass murderer.
Australia likes to present itself as a helpful, generous neighbour
of East Timor, after public opinion forced the government of John
Howard to lead a UN peacekeeping force six years ago. East Timor
is now an independent state, thanks to the courage of its people
and a tenacious resistance led by the liberation movement Fretilin,
which in 2001 swept to political power in the first democratic
In regional elections last year, 80 per cent of votes went to
Fretilin, led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a convinced "economic
nationalist", who opposes privatisation and interference by the
World Bank. A secular Muslim in a largely Roman Catholic country,
he is, above all, an anti-imperialist who has stood up to the
bullying demands of the Howard government for an undue share of
the oil and gas spoils of the Timor Gap.
picture in the past few months
is particularly ugly against the
background of the self-righteous
posturing in the 'enlightened states.'
But it simply illustrates, once again,
what should be obvious:
Nothing substantial has changed,
either in the actions of the powerful
or the performance of their flatterers.
The Timorese are 'unworthy victims.'
No power interest is served by
attending to their suffering or taking
even simple steps to end it.
Without a significant popular reaction,
the long-familiar story will continue
in East Timor and
throughout the world."
- Noam Chomsky writing
about Timor in August 1999.
His words that "nothing substantial has changed,
either in the actions of the powerful or
the performance of their flatterers" echoes in 2006.
28 last, a section of the East Timorese army mutinied, ostensibly
over pay. An eyewitness, Australian radio reporter Maryann Keady,
disclosed that American and Australian officials were involved.
On May 7, Alkatiri described the riots as an attempted coup and
said that "foreigners and outsiders" were trying to divide the
nation. A leaked Australian Defence Force document has since revealed
that Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is to "seek access"
for the Australian military so that it can exercise "influence
over East Timor's decision-making". A Bushite "neo-con" could
not have put it better.
for "influence" arose on May 31, when the Howard government accepted
an "invitation" by the East Timorese president, Xanana Gusmão,
and foreign minister, José Ramos Horta - who oppose Alkatiri's
nationalism - to send troops to Dili, the capital. This was accompanied
by "our boys to the rescue" reporting in the Australian press,
together with a smear campaign against Alkatiri as a "corrupt
Paul Kelly, a former editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch's Australian,
wrote: "This is a highly political intervention... Australia is
operating as a regional power or a political hegemon that shapes
security and political outcomes." Translation: Australia, like
its mentor in Washington, has a divine right to change another
country's government. Don Watson, a speechwriter for the former
prime minister Paul Keating, the most notorious Suharto apologist,
wrote, incredibly: "Life under a murderous occupation might be
better than life in a failed state..."
with a force of 2,000, an Australian brigadier flew by helicopter
straight to the headquarters of the rebel leader, Major Alfredo
Reinado - not to arrest him for attempting to overthrow a democratically
elected prime minister but to greet him warmly. Like other rebels,
Reinado had been trained in Canberra.
is said to be pleased with his title of George W Bush's "deputy
sheriff" in the South Pacific. He recently sent troops to a rebellion
in the Solomon Islands, and imperial opportunities beckon in Papua
New Guinea, Vanuatu and other small island nations. The sheriff
first appeared in the New Statesman.
Mari Alkatiri helped East Timor
events in East Timor have reached boiling point with the
resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, little is known
about why he is perceived as the enemy.
of the founders of Fretilin, the independence party, the
52-year-old ex-chartered surveyor returned from exile in
1999 to become economics minister in the interim government.
He was chief negotiator between Australia and East Timor
over the latter's rich petroleum resources. He was reputedly
a tough negotiator and also a Muslim in a 90% Roman Catholic
University's Dr. Helen Hill observed: "Accusations against
Alkatiri frequently accuse him of having 'sat out' the occupation
in Mozambique whereas he was present with Jose Ramos Horta
every year at the debate on East Timor at the United Nations.
It was Alkatiri who did most of the thinking that led the
multi-party National Council for Timorese Resistance to
adopt its 'Magna Carta' in 1998 linking Timor's future policies
with the best standards in international practice coming
from the UN's conferences on human rights, environment,
population, women and social development during the 1990s.
frequently allege that Mari Alkatiri's presence in Mozambique
for 24 years means he is some sort of unreconstructed Marxist.
In reality he is a strong economic nationalist and has spoken
out against privatisation of electricity and managed to
get a 'single-desk' pharmaceutical store despite opposition
from the World Bank, but this is hardly radical policy.
He hopes a state-owned petroleum company assisted by China,
Malaysia and Brazil will enable Timor to benefit from some
of its own in-shore oil and gas in addition to the revenue
it will raise from the area jointly shared with Australia.
from their time in Mozambique have helped several of the
Ministers now running East Timor to avoid problems such
as an international debt, currently plaguing most African
countries. There is widespread support in Timor for Alkatiri's
decision not to take loans from the World Bank under the
Poverty Reduction Strategy Program despite the fact that
it gave Timor a few years of extremely low salaries in the
here to find out more.