Sophie Black writes:


As photographs of Australia’s Ambassador to East Timor, Margaret Twomey, partying this week with recently resigned Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta
circulate around Dili, there is growing resentment in some circles
about Australia’s perceived “meddling” in Timorese politics.

“Given
that Horta is an active political player during a constitutional crisis
and his current status is in question, this might already seem slightly
odd”, a Dili-based source said of the get-together set up by the
Ambassador on Monday night to watch the World Cup. “Then add the timing
– the party was organised just after Mari Alkatiri resigned that
afternoon as Prime Minister… Australia has been claiming it will not
meddle in Timorese politics, so some discretion on the Ambassador’s
part might have been expected at this sensitive time.”

According
to our source, Twomey sent an email titled “Bad result, but good
party!” (presumably referring to the World Cup results…) to all her
Timorese staff. The email – which is now circulating among Timorese
activists – included a photo of herself and Horta (see right).

It’s
all pretty unfortunate given that “members in Alkatiri’s Fretilin party
have made it clear they view Australia with suspicion”, says Crikey’s
source. “When thousands of Fretilin protesters gathered outside Dili on
Tuesday, they featured banners calling for an end to Australia’s
intervention in Timorese democracy.”

But what is the extent of
Australia’s involvement in the recent unrest? And is there anything to
support the rumours that Australia tacitly backed the overthrow of
Alkatiri?

In an interview with journalist John Martinkus in New Matilda
this week (subscription only), outgoing PM Mari Alkatiri accused the
Australian media of playing a large part in the campaign to force him
to resign. “Some [report like this] because they are not informed or
aware of the situation”, Alkatiri told Martinkus, “but others because
they are trying to demonise me.”

Martinkus writes that Alkatiri
“claims that opposition groups within East Timor with foreign backing
had repeatedly tried to convince prominent commanders in the East
Timorese armed forces to overthrow his Government.”

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 lead a coup against Alkatiri in the past
18 months… Due to the sensitivity of the information, the
nationalities of the foreigners was not revealed… Alkatiri is adamant
the violence was orchestrated as part of a program to topple his
Government.

… What is clear is that the violence that led to
the resignation of the Prime Minister was initiated by soldiers who had
left the military with their weapons under the command of
self-appointed ‘Major’ Alfredo Reinado, a lieutenant who left the
military command after becoming involved with the demonstrating
soldiers. They were the ones who attacked the F-FDTL on the 23 and 24
of May, which sparked the violence. Perhaps those mysterious two
foreign nationals and the local leaders who approached the military had
finally found their man in the East Timorese defence force to carry out
their coup?

At no point does Alkatiri or Martinkus
suggest that Australia was involved in orchestrating a coup in
association with local opposition groups. But rumours are circulating
in Dili, perhaps fuelled by the Fretilin party, that Australia’s
involvement in the recent unrest extends well beyond peace-keeping
duties.

However, Damien Kingsbury, Associate Professor of
International and Political Studies at Deakin University, suggests they
are just that: rumours. There is “no doubt that the Australian
government doesn’t like Alkatiri, which is their right”, he tells
Crikey. “But I have not seen anything that even remotely constitutes
evidence to suggest that Australia has done anything substantive to
undermine Alkatiri’s leadership. Alkatiri and his supporters (including
the Portuguese) have hinted at Australia’s involvement and reasons for
it (oil, gas) but there has simply not been any substantiation of those
claims.”

Peter Fray

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