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EAST TIMOR

Forced resignation of premier sparks protest

Published Jul 9, 2006 10:19 PM

Some 2,000 Australian “peacekeeping” troops—who are looking more like occupation troops every day—made a tacit alliance with opponents of the majority Fretilin government in East Timor to force Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to resign on June 26.

Alkatiri only agreed to resign when faced with the threatened resignation of President Xanana Gusmao, and to prevent further violence in East Timor. He described the events in East Timor during the last few months as “a coup.”

After Alkatiri resigned, anti-Fretilin elements reopened violent attacks in the capital city, Dili. The right-wing Australian media, including the Murdoch newspapers and ABC-TV, made unsubstantiated charges that Alkitiri had armed paramilitary groups.

Although they had to get through lines of Australians and other troops, at least 4,000 Fretilin supporters courageously demonstrated support for the embattled leader and their party.

As a parliament member, Alkatiri is legally immune from prosecution. He has refused to appear to answer charges about arming groups, which he publicly denies.

Fretilin is the leading party in East Timor, and the only one with a mass popular base. It led the struggles for independence—first from Portuguese colonialism and then from Indonesia, which invaded East Timor in 1975 with the approval of President Gerald Ford’s administration in the United States.

During Indonesia’s brutal occupation of the small country, which lasted until 1999, approximately one-third of the population—some 200,000 people—were killed.

Fretilin won 55 of the 88 seats in Parli a ment in the most recent election and became the leading party in the government.

Commenting on its leader’s resignation, a June 26 Fretilin news release said, “We did not expect that the elected leader of a party with an overwhelming mandate could be forced to stand down in this way in a democracy.”

Of the leading Timorese political figures, Gusmao is respected as an independence leader who was jailed during the Indonesian occupation, but he is not with Fretilin. Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta is a former Fretilin member who today is the Timorese political figure closest to the United States. This Nobel Peace Prize winner even wrote an article defending the U.S. intervention in Iraq, saying that “Iraq is experiencing real freedom for the first time in its history.” (“Sometimes, a War Saves People,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2004)

Alkatiri, who is a leader of Fretilin, is often called an “economic nationalist,” meaning he represents those struggling for both political and economic sovereignty for the Timorese. His negotiations improved the share the Timorese were to get from expected oil revenues, and he also negotiated arrangements with Cuba to send 600 Timorese to that island to be trained as doctors. For these actions he has become a target of vicious attacks in the Australian big-business media.

Instead of rounding up the rebellious soldiers and gangs who were burning homes in Dili and turning the Timorese into refugees in their own country, the Australian forces held meetings with the leader of the rebellion, a Maj. Alfredo Alves Reinado. This officer had received training in Canberra, Australia, just a few months earlier.

The government in Washington, D.C., also considers Alkatiri an enemy. Lora Horta reported in the Asian Times on May 27: “The United States’ discontent with Alkatiri was clearly on display when the U.S. ambassador openly supported the Catholic Church against his government during street protests last year, with the senior U.S. official even briefly attending one of the protests in person. Political insiders now wonder about the United States’ connections to rebel leader Reinado, whose wife works for the U.S. Embassy and helps to oversee the Peace Corps program.”

Behind the conflict in East Timor is an attempt by the Australian government and ruling class to get the lion’s share of an expected tens of billions of dollars worth of oil out of the off-shore area known as the Timor Gap. Most of the oil is in Timorese waters between the small country and Australia. The Australian government, which is closely aligned with U.S. imperialism and has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, has obviously targeted the more independent elements in the Timorese government, like Alkatiri.

After a violent outburst by elements expelled from the East Timor army in the spring, President Gusmao invited security forces from Australia, Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand to enter East Timor. Australia was there within days, and there are now approximately 2,700 foreign military and police forces in East Timor, mostly under Australian command.

In the South Pacific region, Australia also has occupation troops in the Solomon Islands and in Papua New Guinea. They defend the interests of the big transnational monopolies, including those based in the United States, that extract raw materials. French and U.S. imperialism, both of which occupy islands in the region and exploit their natural resources, have given diplomatic support to the Australian intervention in East Timor.

The imperialist powers, with the United States as their center, are united in their attempt to eliminate the economic sovereignty of the rest of the world and to return these nations to a colonial status. The Fretilin forces in East Timor are attempting to resist this imperial rule.

Email: jcat@workers.org