of a three-part article on Australia's recent military intervention
in East Timor published on the World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org).
In an article
entitled "East Timor: Alkatiri speaks" published last month on
the New Matilda website, well-known Australian freelance
journalist John Martinkus investigated Prime Minister Alkatiri's
claims that his political opponents had sought to gain control
of the country's army and foment a coup against the government.
to Martinkus, the prime minister said: "They were always trying
to get command of Falintil-FDTL [East Timor's Defence Forces].
They tried to convince the command to order and participate in
a coup. They failed. When they failed to bring the command to
join their forces in a coup then what they did is they tried to
break F-FDTL and they did it by bringing out of their barracks
almost 600 which they called the petitioners."
and protests carried out by 600 soldiers over pay and conditions
in February and March; their subsequent sacking by the Alkatiri
government; and the suppression of violent protests involving
soldiers, young gangs and opposition politicians on April 28,
were repeatedly cited in the Australian media as the reasons for
sending in Australian troops.
spoken to the East Timorese military about these events, Martinkus
wrote: "Senior sources within the command of F-FDTL confirmed
that Alkatiri's claims were genuine. They say three separate approaches
had been made to the leadership to launch a coup against Alkatiri
in the past 18 months.
was able to confirm that in
April 2005, following weeks of
mass demonstrations against
Alkatiri's Government, the commander
of the F-FDTL, Brigadier Taur Matan
Ruak, had been approached to lead
a coup by senior figures within
East Timor's Catholic church.
He rejected the offer."
Australian freelance journalist John Martinkus
was able to confirm that in April 2005, following weeks of mass
demonstrations against Alkatiri's Government, the commander of
the F-FDTL, Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak, had been approached to
lead a coup by senior figures within East Timor's Catholic church.
He rejected the offer. He was approached again early this year
and asked to lead a coup in a meeting with two prominent East
Timorese leaders and two foreign nationals. Again he refused,
reportedly telling them it was against the Constitution and would
set an unacceptable precedent.
of his leading deputies, Lieutenant-Colonel Falur Rate Laek, a
veteran of the war against Indonesia, was also approached by the
same two local leaders and foreign nationals. He also refused.
"Due to the
sensitivity of the information, the nationalities of the foreigners
were not revealed."
officers involved, as well as Alkatiri and the Fretilin leaders,
clearly know who made these approaches, including the names and
nationalities of the foreigners concerned. Their failure to name
names was not surprising. It flowed directly from Fretilin's continuing
refusal to openly oppose the Australian-led invasion of the country.
Fearing it could lose control of a mass movement against the military
occupation, Alkatiri bowed to pressure and agreed to "invite"
the Australian troops. He then resigned his post as prime minister
and, not long after, gave his blessing to the installation of
hostility to Fretilin
It is not
difficult to fathom who was behind the moves against the Fretilin
government. Since 2001, the political opposition drew sustenance
from the US and Australia, with Washington according the leading
role to Canberra. If the "foreigners" were not Australian or US
officials or agents, they were certainly acting in the knowledge
that the ousting of the Alkatiri government would be welcomed
by Howard and Bush.
April 2005, church leaders
organised a protracted campaign
lasting several weeks to oppose
the Fretilin government's decision
to make religious education in schools
optional rather than compulsory.
This elementary democratic step provoked bitter denunciation from
the church, which demanded
the ousting of Alkatiri.
made to Martinkus are certainly credible. The hostility of the
Catholic church to the Fretilin government emerged in the debates
over the new country's constitution, when church officials and
opposition politicians argued for the reestablishment of Catholicism
as the state religion. While their bid was unsuccessful, Bishop
Belo nevertheless forced the removal of a clause expressing the
basic democratic tenet of "separation of church and state" and
another referring to the right to divorce.
April 2005, church leaders organised a protracted campaign lasting
several weeks to oppose the Fretilin government's decision to
make religious education in schools optional rather than compulsory.
This elementary democratic step provoked bitter denunciation from
the church, which demanded the ousting of Alkatiri. Speaking at
a Dili rally on April 19, 2005, Father Benancio Araujo denounced
the "dictatorship of Alkatiri" and warned that the church would
summon people from beyond the capital to "topple the anti-democratic
regime". According to a report in Asia Times, the US ambassador
to East Timor openly supported the church's protests,
even attending one of the demonstrations in person.
late April, Alkatiri accused the church of acting like an "opposition
party", then backed down and withdrew his plans to make religious
education voluntary. The retreat only emboldened the Catholic
priests. In January 2006, a leading Fretilin parliamentarian,
Francisco Branco, denounced a prominent priest for waging a campaign
to bring down the government. According to Branco, the priest
had told churchgoers that a decision to send students to study
in Cuba would turn East Timor into a communist country. Moreover,
Fretilin had a plan to kill nuns and priests if it won the next
were at least two other reasons why the anger of Australia and
the US with the Fretilin government deepened at the start of 2006.
In January, Canberra and Dili finally signed a deal over the joint
exploitation of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. While
the lion's share still went to Australia, Alkatiri had forced
the Howard government to make limited, but significant, concessions
to East Timor. Moreover, Dili was also examining proposals to
cooperate with China and several European countries, rather than
Australia, to explore and develop other potential energy resources
in East Timorese territory.
February, the Dili government
called tenders for its own Timor Trough fields, after a Chinese-Norwegian
survey estimated that the area held half a billion barrels of
light oil, and some 10 trillion cubic feet of gas (about 10 per
cent of the total estimated Timor Sea reserves). By the April
19 deadline, five companies had submitted bids, either individually
or in consortia. They were Italy's ENI, Portugal's GALP (in which
ENI is the majority shareholder), Brazil's Petroleo Brasileiro
(Petrobas), Malaysia's Petronas and India's Reliance.
were at least two other
reasons why the anger of Australia
and the US with the Fretilin
government deepened at the
start of 2006. In January, Canberra
and Dili finally signed a deal over
the joint exploitation of the oil and
gas fields in the Timor Sea.
While the lion's share still went
to Australia, Alkatiri had forced
the Howard government to
make limited, but significant,
concessions to East Timor.
Moreover, Dili was also examining
proposals to cooperate with China
and several European countries,
rather than Australia, to explore
and develop other potential energy
resources in East Timorese territory.
At the same
time, the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation
(CAVR) released a comprehensive report about the crimes of the
Indonesian dictatorship in East Timor between 1975 and 1999 and
the responsibility of the major powers, especially the US and
Australia, for their complicity. The report, which was funded
by the UN, cut directly across efforts by Gusmao to bury the past
and to effect reconciliation with Indonesia. In formally presenting
it to the UN Security Council, Gusmao opposed the document and
attempted to suppress its findings.
was eventually leaked to the media. The US and Australia both
reacted angrily to its conclusions, which, while limited, nevertheless
held the two countries responsible for supporting the Indonesian
junta and called on them to pay reparations to East Timor.
far as Canberra and Washington were concerned, the CAVR report
constituted, not only yet another black mark against the Alkatiri
government, but also against the UN. Their hostility to the UN
stemmed from the fact that, in attempting to carry out its mandate,
the organisation had helped install and maintain the Alkatiri
government. The Bush administration had repeatedly opposed the
extension of the UN presence in East Timor and, in mid-2005, succeeded
in having the size and aims of the mission wound back considerably.
In January 2006 and again in May, in the midst of the political
crisis, the US and Australia both opposed any further UN presence
in East Timor.
long record of intrigue, there is no doubt that Australia had
a direct hand in the political events leading up to its May 24
military intervention. The Howard government's close relations
with Gusmao and Ramos-Horta were undoubtedly augmented by a network
of contacts established by Australian diplomatic staff, military
personnel and intelligence operatives in Dili with opposition
politicians, rebel soldiers and police, and even gang leaders.
Canberra not only knew who was involved in the army protests in
March, but, in all likelihood, encouraged them.
before a Senate committee, Defence Deputy Secretary Strategy,
Michael Pezzullo, admitted that 28 Australian military personnel
had been in East Timor well before May 24 and had daily contact
with Timorese officers. The Greens, who fully supported the dispatch
of Australian troops, asked what these Australian officers had
been doing. "I want to know if Defence had any role in the sacking
of troops that precipitated the current crisis. I want to know
what communication and cooperation Defence has had with the rebel
leader Major Reinado," Greens Senator Kerry Nettle asked. No further
details were forthcoming.
explained that Reinado
and Railos joined forces that day
for a joint attack on a pro-government
military base at Tacitolu.
Interestingly, Railos was to emerge
just a fortnight later with allegations
that he was the leader of a pro-Fretilin
"hit squad," armed by interior minister
Lobato with Alkatiri's agreement!
This completely unsubstantiated
claim quickly became the pretext
for demands that both leaders resign.
opposition leaders stridently demanded a UN investigation into
the violent protest that took place on April 28 in Dili, which
ended in police killing several demonstrators. However, commenting
in her article "Imperialist Coup in East Timor", journalist Maryann
Keady wrote: "I arrived in Dili just as the first riots broke
out on April 28 this year and as an eyewitness at the front of
the unrest, the very young soldiers seem to have outside help
- believed to be local politicians and 'outsiders'. Most onlookers
cited the ability of the dissident soldiers to go from an unarmed
vocal group, to hundreds brandishing sticks and weapons, as raising
locals' suspicion that this was not an 'organic' protest. I interview
many people - from Fretilin insiders, to opposition politicians
and local journalists - and not one ruled out the fact that the
riots had been hijacked for 'other' purposes."
had to acknowledge in his report to the UN Security Council on
May 5 that Osorio Lequi, the leader of a newly formed opposition
party, the PDRT, had been involved in heightening tensions. Horta
reported that the clashes on April 28 were not carried out by
dissident soldiers, but by a mob of youth and some political elements,
including PDRT members, who attacked the police and went on a
rampage. Significantly, at the same UN session, US and Australian
officials vehemently opposed any further extension, let alone
an expansion, of the UN mission, which was due to end. A compromise
was finally struck extending its remit for a month.
is every reason to believe that the Howard government, with the
backing of the Bush administration, had already set in motion
plans for a military occupation of East Timor. On May 12, as he
was about to leave for Washington, Howard confirmed that the Australian
military had ordered three warships to sail to waters off the
coast of East Timor, without informing the Alkatiri government.
Canberra's gunboat diplomacy was aimed at intensifying pressure
on the Fretilin leadership. Howard was well aware that plans were
underway to oust Alkatiri at a Fretilin congress being held from
May 17 to 19. The dissident faction, led by East Timor's ambassador
to the UN and the US, Jose Luis Guterres, and the former ambassador
to Australia, Jorge Teme, was receiving open backing in the Australian
Guterres' move collapsed when the overwhelming majority of Fretilin
delegates re-endorsed Alkatiri on May 19. As soon as the congress
ended, clashes rapidly erupted between pro-government security
forces and dissident soldiers, police and youth gangs in and near
Dili, providing the necessary pretext - the collapse of "law and
order" - for the Australian military to be sent in. Two of those
involved in the clashes - "Major" Alfredo Reinado and Vincente
"Railos" da Conceicao - have all the characteristics of agents
chronology of events over the
past five years demonstrates
that the Australian military occupation
of East Timor, the subsequent removal
of Alkatiri and the installation of
Ramos-Horta as prime minister,
were not the outcome of the
unforeseen breakdown of
"law and order" in Dili. They were,
on the contrary, the product of
long-hatched plans for
"regime change", aimed at
protecting the vital economic and
strategic interests of
his exile in Australia and trained last year at the Australian
defence academy in Canberra. Controlling a handful of military
police, he moved on May 23, with SBS reporter David O'Shea in
tow, to the outskirts of Dili where he provoked a firefight with
government troops. Feted in the Australian media in subsequent
days, Reinado made no secret of his desire for Australian "peacekeepers"
to take control, and of his insistence that Alkatiri resign and
be put on trial.
On May 24,
under pressure from Gusmao and Horta, Alkatiri finally agreed
to endorse a formal invitation for troops and police from Australia,
Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand to enter the country. Within
hours, the first Australian soldiers began to land at Dili airport.
But the clashes in Dili continued as Australia pressed for final
agreement on the extent of its involvement and the rules of engagement.
In his interview with journalist Martinkus, Alkatiri explained
that Reinado and Railos joined forces that day for a joint attack
on a pro-government military base at Tacitolu. Interestingly,
Railos was to emerge just a fortnight later with allegations that
he was the leader of a pro-Fretilin "hit squad," armed by interior
minister Lobato with Alkatiri's agreement! This completely unsubstantiated
claim quickly became the pretext for demands that both leaders
short his visit to Ireland to arrive back in Australia on May
24, in time to publicly announce the dispatch of troops to East
Timor. As news came in of the escalating clashes at Tacitolu and
elsewhere, Howard gave the order for the intervention to proceed
"full steam ahead" without waiting for final agreement from the
Alkatiri government. Within days, the full force of 1,300 Australian
troops and police, backed by armoured vehicles and attack helicopters
was on the ground. At the insistence of Australian
diplomats and military officials, the Fretilin government conceded
wide powers to these "peace-keepers," allowing them to effectively
impose martial law in Dili.
chronology of events over the past five years demonstrates that
the Australian military occupation of East Timor, the subsequent
removal of Alkatiri and the installation of Ramos-Horta as prime
minister, were not the outcome of the unforeseen breakdown of
"law and order" in Dili. They were, on the contrary, the product
of long-hatched plans for "regime change", aimed at protecting
the vital economic and strategic interests of Australian imperialism.
Having failed since 2002 to secure its objective of ousting the
Alkatiri government through more indirect means, the Howard government,
with the support of the Bush administration, opted in May-June
2006 for the more direct military approach.
How Australia Orchestrated 'Regime Change' In East Timor
imperialism, East Timor and the role of the DSP
July 2006 - click
Australia installs its man in East Timor:
July 2006 - click
Oppose Australia's neo-colonial occupation
of East Timor
June 2006 - click
Why Australia wants "regime change" in
May 2006 - click