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EAST TIMOR: PM Alkatiri resignation would not solve crisis, experts say

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Timor Leste Journalists Association head says most media got it wrong in calling Prime Minister source of current problems Jakarta Post Friday, June 16, 2006 By Abdul Khalik

Jakarta --- Experts and activists agree that Timor Leste needs to remain on the path to democracy rather than bringing down Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, and must first address its past before it can move forward into the future.

Timor Leste Journalists Association head Virgilio Guterres said most media had wrongly accused Alkatiri of being the source of the current problems in Timor Leste. He pointed out that it was not the prime minister who dismissed almost half of the country's armed forces.

"It was the defense minister who fired them because the soldiers simply did not show up for over two months. And of course, the prime minister and president agreed with the decision. However, all media outlets point to Alkatiri as the one who fired them," he said Thursday during a seminar here on Timor Leste.

The country plunged into chaos after around 600 soldiers were dismissed in March. The soldiers complained of discrimination because they came from the country's west.

Twenty-one people died in May as sporadic battles between rival soldiers and between soldiers and police descended into gang clashes. Late last month the government appealed for foreign help and now more than 2,000 combat-ready foreign peacekeepers, chiefly from Australia, are deployed in Dili.

Guterres said the initial problem was not acute, as less than 200 soldiers signed a petition complaining of east-west discrimination. The other 400 soldiers had left their squads for months.

"So they were separate cases. Unfortunately, the defense minister fired them all at the same time, creating a sense of unity among them. It would be very different if they were fired separately," he said.

Guterres, rights activist Johnson Panjaitan of the Indonesian Legal Aid Center and Haryadi Wiryawan, head of the Department of International Relations at the University of Indonesia, all agreed that bringing down Alkatiri would not bring peace to Timor Leste.

Many media outlets have reported that pressure has mounted on Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party won the last election, to step down before the upcoming general election. So far, President Xanana Gusmao and parliament have refused to bow to the pressure.

"Timor Leste must first resolve its past problems, including bringing to justice people responsible for gross human rights abuses and trying criminals. Unless they deal with those problems, they won't be able to move forward as conflicts and injustice will always reemerge," Johnson said.

Johnson proposed that the United Nations should help Timor Leste improve its capacity.

"They should help bring gross human right violators and criminals to justice, and help the country build its capacity for democracy and governance. If not, then the conflict will continue to reemerge," he said.

Haryadi said that although he had no hard evidence, he believed that the current Timor Leste conflict was not an isolated case.

"It should be remembered that Australia has political and economic interests in Timor Leste. They want to have influence in the country, and don't want Indonesia to have more leverage. Alkatiri's socialist outlook is seen as not in line with what they want Timor Leste to be," he said.

Haryadi said that Australia aimed also at preventing Timor Leste from becoming too close to China, which is very aggressive in widening its influence in the Pacific.

Johnson also said that it would be naive to think that the conflict in Timor Leste arose without a grand design.

Created by anita
Last modified 2006-06-23 06:09 PM

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