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East Timor – troubles far from over

Updated On: Jun 30, 2006

East Timor’s troubles are far from over even after Prime Minister Alkatiri resignation.

After the resignation, stone-throwing individuals have attacked refugee camps in East Timor and thousands of supporters of the ex-Prime Minister camped outside the capital Dili. A number of huts near Dili’s airport were torched, and further violence can be expected as Alkatiri's supporters head into the city. The lingering problems that remain include the disarrayed security forces, armed rebel groups and factions of the ruling party who are angry that Mr Alkatiri had been forced out of office.

Meanwhile, the race is on to succeed PM Alkatiri. One of the newest contenders in addition to the favourites is Arsenio Paixao Bano - the minister for labour and solidarity backed up by impeccable Western credentials – he is married to an Australian and was educated in England. So far, at least openly, he seemed to have ruled himself out of the race. "I'm not interested," he told AFP. "I'm interested in the process of  dialogue to maintain the state as a nation. I would say no if asked but I will certainly want to engage in normalising the situation." The second candidate that seems to be favoured by Australia is Jose Ramos Horta. Prime Minister John Howard publicly said: “Jose Ramos-Horta is a very significant figure, I hope he is not lost to the political scene indefinitely."

Another candidate Ms Ana Pessoa, a close ally of Mr Alkatiri and ex-wife of Horta Ramos is beginning to attract attacks to her succession credentials. Some political factions identify her with Alkatiri’s Mozambique clique and worry that Alkatiri will still be controlling things from behind the scenes. Ms Pessoa also enjoys Western support as some analysts describe her as being pro-Portuguese. But her Western background may backfire since she cannot speak Tetum, the local language.

Judging from prevailing political winds, the succession race may end up as one between an Anglo-Australian-related candidate versus an Occidental Portuguese-oriented candidate. Meanwhile, the government is relying on financial incentives to rebuild the country after the recent spate of tensions. Ramos-Horta announced that the national budget of US$415 million will be used for social infrastructure spending to address some of the issues that sparked the violence.

Some analysts also see Australian interest in Timor as complicating the situation.  If foreign power intervention, particularly by the dominant powers in the region, is indeed present in the current conflict, it may destabilize East Timorese independence rather than aid it. The mixing of powerful political and economic interests, especially with the presence of energy resources interests by East Timor’s neighbours may accentuate internal strife within East Timor’s young political system.

Sources:

Possible contenders to become East Timor's PM (ANTARA, 28 June 2006)

Clashes in Dili as ETimor ex-PM's supporters mass outside city (Today/AFP, 28 June 2006)

East Timor leaders discuss formation of a new government (Jakarta Post, 28 June 2006)

East Timor former PM to face questioning, talks begin on successor (ANTARA, 27 June 2006)

East Timor leaders meet to choose new PM (ANTARA, 27 June 2006)

Alkatiri's gone but Timor Leste's problems remain (Today, 27 June 2006)

Celebrations in Timor Leste as PM resigns (The Straits Times/Reuters/AFP/AP, 27 June 2006)

E Timor's 'wrong kind of leader' (BBC, 26 June 2006)

Australia's East Timor peacekeeping is temporary, Howard says (Jakarta Post, 26 June 2006)