“I think East Timor can do without canards like Indonesia would want to destabilise East Timor”, said Alexander Downer
on 3 June in Dili. According to my dictionary, a canard is a report or
rumour which is “deliberately false”. Given the care of diplomatic
language, especially when in another country and concerning that
country, this is an extraordinarily provocative statement to make.

What
evidence does the Foreign Minister have to know with such certainty
that this is untrue (rather than to admit that he has no evidence that
it is), and that the Timorese Government knows it is untrue? Isn’t his
intelligence informing him of repeated efforts at destabilisation over
the years of independence, even though most likely without any formal
approval or knowledge by the Indonesian leadership?

The recent
(unlikely random) removal of serious crimes files from Indonesian
times, the probable entry of some weapons from West Timor, the presence
of ex-militia provocateurs, and lingering uncertainties about the
Indonesian links with some of the local martial arts groups suspected
of being involved in current gang violence (most of which were
established by pro-Indonesian groups pre-1999), would be enough – I’d
have thought – to at least raise a reasonable level of doubt of
Indonesian (which is not to say Indonesian Government) efforts at
destabilisation.

Similarly, PM Alkatiri has clearly overstepped
the boundary by portraying a more sinister role from Jakarta. And he
knows only too well that, whatever external provocation there may be,
the causes of the current turmoil are entirely domestic in nature, and
must have an entirely domestic resolution.

This
obviously points a strong finger at his leadership, and the desperate
need for national political unity and for renewed evidence of that
leadership being exercised, with a greater focus on the sort of
analysis offered by Bob Lowry in yesterday’s Australian.
There are too many weapons unaccounted for out in the districts, and too
many factions with different loyalties, for this situation to have
anything but a domestic political solution.

Of course, this is
in no way helped at present by PM Alkatiri’s pretence of personally
remaining in control of the state machinery, his (probably wise)
invisibility from the people (especially those in camps who are
suffering enormously), a preoccupation with the power struggle rather
than the escalating time-bombs of disease, trauma and anger across the
many camps, and impotence in the face of an apparent looming showdown
when “east meets west”. What should a Prime Minister do when most of
the citizens of the capital are refugees in their own city?

A
domestic resolution is necessary, despite the central role which the
international community has been invited to play in restoring order
(likely, beyond the next elections), and will inevitably need to play
in national development. Consequently, this raises particular
challenges for non-Timorese players as well.

Peter Fray

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