East Timor: Democracy under siege

Yesterday's attempted assassinations in East Timor would presumably have been followed by a political and military coup. Today Acting President Vicente Gutterres announced a curfew and two-day state of emergency on a TV address this Tuesday, and 120 Australian soldiers and 70 federal police sent to help with security and peacekeeping began arriving in Dili the same afternoon.

Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta was wounded yesterday morning at his home and later transferred to Australia's northern city of Darwen for medical treatment. He remains in an “extremely serious but stable” condition. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was unhurt in a separate attack soon after the gunfight at Ramos-Horta's home. Major Alfredo Reinado, one of the 600 mutinous soldiers dismissed by the government in 2006, was shot dead inside the president's residency, and according to his supporters an hour earlier the attack on Ramos-Horta.

Bloggers have been busy reporting on the situation on the ground, echoing news, trying to get extra information and worrying about the future of the democracy in the tiny island, which has only been declared an independent state in 2002. Margarida [pt] uploads a video from YouTube user rincondelucha which shows an interview with Major Alfredo Reinado, uploaded a day before his death, in which he says he was prepared to sacrifice his life for his people and country. The interview is in English:

Lena Lorosae [pt] leaves readers with a question for reflection:

A quem interessava “decapitar” o sistema político vigente em Timor, com o Presidente do Parlamento fora do país ?… Dá que pensar…

Who would be interested in “decapitating” the existing political system in Timor, with the President of Parliament out of the country? … It makes one wonder…

Timor Online [pt] adds some more questions that remain unanswered:

Quantos furos de bala tinham os três carros que foram emboscados da comitiva de Xanana Gusmão, depois do ataque a Ramos-Horta, incluindo aquele em que seguia, o tal que “foi completamente destruído”?

Quem alvejou Ramos-Horta, que foi encontrado de bruços, atingido pelas costas, na rua à porta da sua casa? Porque quando lá chegou, já Alfredo Reinado estava morto dentro de casa no jardim com um tiro no olho e outro na mão…

Perguntas difíceis de fazer?!

How many bullet holes the three cars that had been ambushing Xanana Gusmao's convoy had, after the attack on Ramos-Horta, including the car which followed him, the one said to “have been completely destroyed”? Who fired on Ramos-Horta, found face down shot in the back on the street next to his front door? Because when he got there, Alfredo Reinado was already dead inside his home, in the garden, shot in the eye and in the hand … Too difficult questions to ask?

Timor Online has been compiling pieces of news in both English and Portuguese about the incident. Among them, there is Lusa a piece on the criticism by former Portuguese ambassador in Indonesia and Member of European Parliament Ana Gomes about Major Alfredo Reinado, according to her “a criminal and unbalanced person” to whom Timorese, Australian and UN authorities were “too appeasing” in dealing with and therefore to be blamed for. She recalled that Reinado was the central figure in the political and military crisis in May 2006. A comment left on this post by H correia [pt] says she was a little bit too late to react to the actual political situation:

Durante cerca de um ano e meio, este e outros blogues,bem como muitas indivualidades timorenses andaram a dizer isto mesmo, perante o autismo irredutível de RH, XG, Atul Khare, comandantes australianos, e… o silêncio da Lusa, da imprensa portuguesa e da própria Ana Gomes. É pena só agora a Srª eurodeputada ter dito isto. Agora é tarde e é fácil ir com a maré. Devia ter falado há mais tempo, quando esteve tão calada perante as ilegalidades cometidas por XG e RH.

For about a year and a half, this and other blogs, as well as many Timorese people, have been saying it in the face of RH, XG, Atul Khare, Australian commanders’ irreducible autism… and about the silence from Lusa, the Portuguese press and the very Ana Gomes. It is a pity only now Ms MEP have said that. Now it is too late and it is easier to go with the tide. She should have spoken earlier, when she was so quiet in the face of the illegalities committed by XG and RH.

(RH = Ramos Horta, XG=Xanana Gusmao, Atul Khare is the United Nations Special Representative for Timor-Leste)

On publishing a piece of news that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will fly to East Timor this week after boosting Australia's military presence in response to the crises, Timor Online [pt] left a footnote:

Como será possível alguém acreditar que mais umas centenas de incompetentes de militares australianos e polícias federais, conhecidos pela sua falta de respeito às instituições timorenses, alvos de queixas e processos crime por desrespeito e desobediência ao sistema judicial timorense, vão resolver o que quer que seja?

How can someone believe that a few more hundred of incompetent Australian military and federal police officers, known by their lack of respect for Timorese institutions, target of complaints and criminal processes for disrespecting and disobedience to the Timorese judiciary, will address whatever problem there is?

Mane Kribas, from Timor Lorosae Nação [pt] is also sure that Timor does not need any help from Australia:

NÃO, NÃO PRECISAMOS DE MAIS MILITARES AUSTRALIANOS EM TIMOR-LESTE, precisamos, isso sim, de esvaziar substancialmente o seu domínio para que venham para Timor militares competentes de países insuspeitos de nos quererem fazer seu capacho.

NO, WE DO NOT NEED MORE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY IN EAST TIMOR, what we need, indeed, is to substantially undermine their domination so that only troops from competent countries that do not want to make doormat of us will come to Timor.

Cláudio Francisco [pt], who used to live in East Timor when it was a former Portuguese colony, says it is time people woken up:

Os últimos acontecimentos em Timor não são de todo uma grande surpresa, pois algo estava na forja há muito tempo. A surpresa foi a magnitude das ações. Esta é uma opinião minha e formada a partir de detalhes conhecidos através da imprensa internacional nas notícias de última hora e que associei ao que de estranho se passou durante muito tempo com relação ao major Reinaldo. Afinal, foragido da Justiça e conhecido o seu paradeiro por muita gente importante, porque razão nunca se colocou côbro a essa situação esdrúxula? Será porque os australianos lhe davam cobertura?— Mas, se assim é, a gravidade da situação é muito maior, pois deduz-se haver conivência no que se passou agora. Muita coisa terá que ser descortinada e os timorenses teem direito de saber o que acontece no seu País.

The recent events in Timor don't come at all as a big surprise, because something like this was in the pipeline for a long time. The surprise was the actions’ magnitude. This is my opinion made up from details known through the international media and in the last minute news, which I have pieced together with the odd things that have happened for a long time regarding major Reinaldo. After all, he was an outlaw whose whereabouts were known by many important people, why this freak situation was never put to an end? Is it because the Australian backed it? — But if so, the gravity of the situation is much greater because it can be concluded that there is connivance with what happened now. Much will be revealed and Timorese people have the right to know what happens in their country


East Timor, a former Portuguese colony with almost 1 million people, is the Asia's newest nation after winning independence from Indonesia in 2002. Ramos-Horta, 58, won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to the Indonesian occupation, campaigning in exile to highlight Indonesia's military rule. Previously, East Timor had been a Portuguese colony since the 16th century.

In March 2006, there was an outbreak of violence and political turmoil in Dili when security forces shot and killed five people, which in turn sparked more violence, rioting and looting for several days. More than 150,000 were displaced and 37 people died between April and May 2006 after clashes between factions within the East Timorese security forces.


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