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Timor Leste’s political tensions ease, humanitarian crisis averted

Updated On: Jul 04, 2006

After weeks of violence between rival ethnic gangs and security forces, Prime Minister Alkatiri’s resignation and his appeal to his supporters to bring about change through elections brought fresh hopes of peace. 

The young nation still faces sporadic violence but a looming humanitarian crisis was just averted after the Australian and Irish government offered cash to make up a US$3 million shortfall to the World Food Programme.

Alkatiri's supporters have accused Australia of orchestrating the premier's downfall. A retired Portuguese general who once commanded a UN force in Timor Leste also claimed last week that Australia had provoked the crisis.  Tellingly, the Australian media has mainly reported on the return of peace to Timor immediately following Alkatiri’s resignation, while playing down the sporadic violence reported by other media sources.

Meanwhile, President Xanana Gusmao has been seeking to forge a path back towards peace.  He said the formation of a new government was a matter of “great urgency” and that he had begun to search for a “stable solution of governance” capable of restoring peace in Timor Leste.  The fledgling nation must hold elections as soon as possible to end the political crisis, he said.  Timor Leste’s elections are due early next year.  

Gusmao has been locked in discussions with advisers and parties, trying to find a politically acceptable candidate to succeed the Prime Minister’s position that will ease tensions in the nation.  Concluding days of discussion, outgoing foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta will be interim Prime Minister, heading the government until a new premier is appointed in coming days. 

In his new capacity, Ramos-Horta headed a meeting of ministers on Monday to discuss pressing problems facing the tiny nation, including the looming humanitarian crisis, as the United Nations said its food supplies to tens of thousands of refugees who fled their homes during weeks of violent disturbances would run out in two weeks, possibly causing “sustained and widespread hunger”.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) said its appeal had fallen short by three million dollars, and warned that malnutrition in the tiny nation, already among the worst in Asia, could get worse unless donors come forward with more money.  WFP began cutting some rations on Friday and said there were “critical shortfalls” in food and health supplies. The imminent food crisis in some 66 camps was fortunately averted with the Australian and Irish governments promising the three million dollars to make up the shortfall.

Sources:

Hope at last for peace in Timor (AAP, 3 July 2006)

E Timor demonstrations a 'watershed' (ABC, 2 July 2006)

Ramos-Horta is temporary head (The Manila Times/AFP, 2 July 2006)

Timor Leste crisis can be resolved only by elections: president (AFP, 29 June 2006)

Hunger fears in Timor Leste as UN rations food to refugees (AFP, 1 July 2006)