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Australia tries to save the day while Indonesia denies it has a hand in the Timorese troubles

Updated On: Jun 06, 2006

East Timor’s new defence minister is Jose Ramos-Horta, a man who is expected to solve East Timor’s chaos and someone close to Australia.

Not surprisingly, Australia was one of the first to respond to the new appointment. Prime Minister John Howard said: "…the replacement of the defence minister at least by somebody as credible as Ramos-Horta is a very good development."

Following this appointment, Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, also flew into Dili for talks with leaders of East Timor.  Downer met President Xanana Gusmao, Foreign and Defence Minister Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. 

Downer rejected suggestions from Alkatiri that the unrest was engineered by Indonesia, and this was echoed by Indonesian Foreign Minister who rejected foreign media reports that suggested the same conspiracy theory.  Indonesia has gone ahead to close its border with East Timor in what it justified as preventing “elements involved in the insurgency in Timor Leste from entering Indonesia”. 

While there were increasing demands for Prime Minister Alkatiri to resign, the unpopular figure in this whole mess, President Gusmao declined to do so, and instead made an emotional appeal for national unity.  Endorsing the decision, Downer was reported saying that “if Alkatiri was forced to resign somehow, and especially by outside forces, my estimation is that that would just destabilize the country still further” as the Prime Minister’s party, the Fretilin has a very clear majority in parliament. 

Despite the presence of some 2,200 soldiers and police officers from AustraliaNew ZealandMalaysia and Portugal, with Australia boasting the largest contingent, resources are stretched as tensions and violence continued.  This has prompted Downer to voice that an "international police presence" would be required, and that it should operate under UN command. Perhaps, bigger powers with more resources should step in now.

China has again shown its deft hand in diplomacy by donating over 4,000 tons of rice and 500 tons of cooking oil which were currently allocated to the refugees to support their living. Such aid may in the long run be more valuable than military power. "We thank the Chinese government. The aid is very useful," Timor-Leste Manpower Minister Arsino Bano told Xinhua. The UN has also given due credit to China for its role.

Sources:

Fearing more violence, UN tries to ease conditions at East Timorese refugee camps (AP, 4 June 2006)

Fresh fighting in East Timor as church leaders plead for peace (ANTARA, 4 June 2006)

Australian FM in ETimor crisis talks (AFP, 4 June 2006)

Nobel laureate named new East Timor defence minister (Reuters, 2 June 2006)

Foreign Minister rejects reports linking RI to East Timor unrest (ANTARA, 2 June 2006)

Timor-Leste Thanks China for Rice Aid (Xinhua News Service, 30 May 2006)