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East Timor News Digest 9 – September 1-30, 2011

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News & issues

Four Corners accused over story that hastened the fall of Alkatiri

Sydney Morning Herald - September 9, 2011

Wendy Frew – A new documentary about East Timor has raised questions about a Gold Walkley-winning ABC TV program that led to the resignation of Mari Alkatiri as prime minister in 2006.

Breaking the News, directed by Nicholas Hansen, examines the relationship between local and foreign journalists in East Timor and examines the Four Corners program "Stoking the Fires".

Hansen, who spent four years researching and filming the documentary, says Four Corners painted a potentially misleading picture of the government's alleged involvement in arming civilian militia – an issue that remained clouded in uncertainty. He told the Herald the willingness of Four Corners to accept the testimony of unreliable characters and its failure to investigate possible links between the militia and the then president Xanana Gusmao put its report "on a very shaky trajectory".

Four Corners investigated claims that in May 2006, when East Timor was apparently on the brink of civil war, Alkatiri ordered his minister of the interior, Rogerio Lobato, to arm a secret civilian security team. The report produced what it said was evidence Alkatiri at least knew his minister was arming civilians.

It spoke to the leader of one militia, Commander Railos, who said Alkatiri told him to "eliminate" about 600 disgruntled soldiers (known as petitioners), opposition leaders, some military leaders and any Fretilin members who opposed Alkatiri.

Lobato was later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years' jail. Alkatiri denied the allegations and prosecutors said there was no evidence to substantiate them.

Four Corners filmed a "sting" that involved Railos staging a mock gun battle against the petitioners, then phoning Lobato to get his approval to shoot them. No petitioners were at the scene.

Hansen's documentary – which was first shown at the Dungog Film Festival in May and will screen in Sydney next month – quotes East Timor journalists who say Four Corners did not tell the full story.

A Timor Post reporter, Rosa Garcia, who worked with Four Corners, said she did not know who asked Railos to stage the mock gun battle and she didn't think Four Corners knew either. She says when she brought the story about the militia to the ABC she said Railos and his men were sheltering at Gusmao's house.

In Hansen's documentary, Garcia says: "We cannot interview Xanana Gusmao. That is why the Four Corners program is not complete, for me."

The executive producer of Four Corners, Sue Spencer, told the Herald Four Corners stood by the program. She denied it failed to pursue the link with Gusmao, but said he had refused to be interviewed. She said the program "presented evidence that Alkatiri was aware the illegal handover of weapons to civilians had occurred and had failed to act appropriately. Nowhere in the [Hansen] documentary are these revelations disputed."

She said the program made it clear Railos had no proof Alkatiri wanted the petitioners eliminated and there was no reason claims by his opponents should not have been investigated. But Hansen says knowing who was behind the stunt "would have unlocked important information about Railos's accomplices".

"To accept that this unreliable character Railos, while ready to incriminate an interior minister and prime minister, had not taken up with other powerful backers, also closed an avenue of inquiry and robbed this investigation of the balance it required.

"We note that Railos's attempts to attribute his lethal use of arms to instructions from Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri did not result in a conviction when later tested in court."

After the Four Corners broadcast, and in light of months of chaos in the capital, Dili, and increasing pressure from Gusmao, Alkatiri resigned. "This left the way clear for Jose Ramos-Horta to run for president and for Gusmao to run for the prime ministership," Hansen's film says.

The editor of the Timor Post, Mouzinho Lopes, says in the film Gusmao was a clever but "dangerous" politician. "It can be considered a game of Xanana Gusmao because Railos is his man  If you play [Gusmao] once he will play you twice."

A UN investigation into the violence found Railos led 31 fighters into ambushes of Timorese soldiers and had been supplied uniforms and weapons on Lobato's order. It did not accept that Alkatiri gave instructions to Railos to "eliminate" his political opponents but said there was "a reasonable suspicion that the former prime minister at least had knowledge about the distribution of [police] weapons to civilians".

Fretilin, the former ruling party, which lost power in 2007, has claimed Railos was responsible for continuing acts of violence while carrying a travel authorisation letter signed by Gusmao.


Ramos-Horta savages Timor leaders

Sydney Morning Herald - September 22, 2011

Philip Dorling – East Timor's parliament is "corrupt and ineffective", Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has an alcohol problem and former prime minister Mari Alkatiri is "arrogant and abusive", according to President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Mr Ramos-Horta's caustic observations have been revealed in leaked US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks.

But the President doesn't emerge unscathed. The Catholic Church is recorded as sharply criticising the East Timorese leader. A senior Vatican official is reported by US diplomats as observing "Ramos-Horta started with good intentions but had let his Nobel prize go to his head".

All the US diplomatic cables leaked to WikiLeaks were published two weeks ago, but 390 reports from the American embassy in Dili have not attracted media attention until now.

Mr Ramos-Horta, described as a "legendary international negotiator", brands Mr Gusmao as "arrogant, but he likes to pretend to be humble, unlike Alkatiri, who doesn't even pretend to be anything but arrogant".

Timorese parliamentary contacts as suggesting that Mr Gusmao "may have an alcohol problem, which is impairing his relations with others".

The embassy said that during a May 5 meeting with [US embassy officers], James Dunn, an author and long-time observer of East Timor, reported the Prime Minister angered Mr Ramos-Horta by turning up "visibly drunk" at a reception in honour of Prince Albert of Monaco on April 6.

Mr Ramos-Horta has also been sharply critical of Mr Alkatiri, whom he replaced as prime minister in June 2006, describing him as "arrogant and abusive".

The cables provide a detailed account of events leading to Mr Alkatiri's June 2006 resignation under threat of dismissal by then president Gusmao, as mob violence and looting flared in Dili. Mr Gusmao was "particularly insistent" that Mr Alkatiri resign or else be dismissed immediately.

The WikiLeaks disclosures provide new insight into Mr Ramos-Horta's attempts to negotiate with rebel East Timorese military leader Alfredo Reinado, including the involvement of US diplomats as intermediaries, while Australian troops tried to hunt down and kill Reinado.

In June 2007, the embassy reported that Mr Ramos-Horta had asked the Australian commander of the International Stabilisation Force to suspend its pursuit of Reinado so that he could call for the rebel to turn himself in.

But on February 11, 2008, Mr Ramos-Horta was critically wounded in an assassination attempt by Reinado, who was killed in the attack.

The President told the US ambassador that he was "unable to explain his attacker's motivation", and described how he lay bleeding for "20 or 30" minutes after he was shot before "a battered ambulance with a driver but no medic arrived".

James Dunn, a confidant of Mr Ramos-Horta, told The Age yesterday that much of the US embassy's reporting was "quite perceptive".

Timor's Ramos-Horta 'above local politics': Memos

Agence France Presse - September 22, 2011

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta saw his fledgling nation's parliament as corrupt and ineffective and believed himself both "above local politics" and indispensable, leaked US memos show.

American diplomats also felt Ramos-Horta had let his 1996 Nobel peace prize "go to his head" and that his global ambitions put him at odds with some of Timor's key allies, embassy cables released by WikiLeaks revealed.

Seen as one of the Timor independence movement's heroes, Ramos-Horta was described as a "legendary international negotiator" by US diplomats in Dili ahead of the military mutiny which sparked a violent crisis in 2006.

But less than three years later, following a failed attempt on his life by rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, Ramos-Horta was painted as a more "blemished" character.

"His eagerness to be seen and taken seriously as an international player has led him to make strong and occasionally rash pronouncements on far- flung issues, sometimes counter to Timorese interests," a February 2009 memo said.

Ramos-Horta, now 61, fancied himself as a candidate for United Nations secretary-general, but his outspoken views on Myanmar had led Yangon to veto any move for East Timor to join ASEAN, the memo said.

He had also "seriously irritated" Australia and Indonesia on occasion and "regularly chastises the US" on Cuba.

In September that year Ramos-Horta threatened to resign as president, a post he has held since 2007 elections, after parliament voted against his travel to the United States for the UN General Assembly.

He launched a tirade against the government in private diplomatic discussions, "barely suppressing his anger" as he warned "the parliament was 'playing with fire' by playing political games with him".

"This parliament was corrupt and ineffective, Ramos-Horta charged, and needed to be cleaned up and 'taught a lesson' in the coming months," a September 2009 memo said.

"Ramos-Horta sees himself as above local politics and as an indispensable guarantor of stability in the country," it added.

The president described Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, once an ally, as "arrogant, but he likes to pretend to be humble", who internal sources said had "an alcohol problem which is impairing his relations with others".

Diplomats cited an April 2008 incident in which "the Prime Minister angered President Ramos-Horta by turning up visibly drunk at a reception in honor of Prince Albert of Monaco".

Oil-rich East Timor won formal independence in 2002, three years after a UN-backed referendum that saw an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia, whose 24-year occupation cost an estimated 200,000 lives.

Human rights & justice

Indonesian occupation-era crimes forgiven, not forgotten in East Timor

IRIN News - September 2, 2011

Manatutu, East Timor – For Pedro Damaeao, having a brother who was part of Falantil, the Timorese guerrilla group that fought Indonesia's army, meant endless harassment for his family throughout the occupation. So the day Indonesian soldiers detained and tortured his father seemed inevitable.

But thousands experienced worse. As many as 180,000 people in East Timor were killed during the Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999. "Maybe some people can let it go but I can't," says the 48-year-old, who lives in the coastal district capital of Manatutu. "There needs to be some form of justice."

More than a decade after East Timor achieved independence from its much more powerful neighbor, accountability for the mass crimes of Indonesia remains contentious.

The limited mechanisms of legal accountability have focused on crimes committed during a particular episode of violence in 1999 when, after East Timor won independence, withdrawing Indonesian soldiers and local pro- Jakarta militias killed more than 1,300 people and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.

From 1999 to 2005, the UN-backed Serious Crimes Unit indicted some 400 people for crimes committed during this post-referendum violence. Only 84 people have been convicted, and today, because of the liberal use of clemencies by East Timor's president and prime minister, only two militia members are still in detention. The rest are living freely.

Incentives to forget past

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and President Jose Ramos-Horta have said the reduced sentences and clemencies were acts of forgiveness to help the country move beyond its violent past. They have argued that genuine legal redress for what their country experienced under Indonesian occupation is impossible given that their neighbor is unwilling to let members of its army stand trial and there is no sign the UN or any world power will pressure Indonesia to reconsider its stance.

In fact, since independence in 1999, East Timor's leaders have focused on turning their wealthier former occupier into a political and economic ally. Indonesian support is particularly important for East Timor's bid to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Timorese leaders see avoiding confrontation with Indonesia over its occupation-era crimes as a necessary starting point in consolidating this new relationship, says Nugroho Katjasungkana, an Indonesian national who was part of the 2005-2008 Truth and Friendship Commission between East Timor and Indonesia, which was seen by observers as conciliatory rather than reproachful.

Many groups remain critical of Gusmao's and Ramos-Horta's real-politik assessment.

"Victims of past crimes, while acknowledging the importance of friendship and reconciliation with Indonesia, express dissatisfaction with the lack of justice and accountability for individuals who perpetrated serious crimes committed during the occupation," said Louis Gentile, the UN's top human rights representative in East Timor.

There is concern about the social and legal precedent set by letting perpetrators of multiple murders, rapes and other grave offences go free, says the office of the NGO International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in Dili, the capital.

Nurturing impunity

ICTJ said such forgiveness had nurtured a mentality in which individuals refused to accept responsibility for their actions.

During a violent flare-up in 2006 initiated by members of the army with a grievance over their alleged marginalization, soldiers who gunned down some policemen later said they had simply followed orders. This argument was also used by local militias to justify their killings during the occupation, noted the ICTJ.

"Going easy on militia who committed serious crimes... sends a message that you can get away with murder and worse," says Galuh Wandita, a senior associate with the organization, who focuses on justice issues in East Timor and Indonesia.

Fernanda Borges, head of the opposition National Unity Party and chairwoman of Committee A, the parliamentary committee on the country's law and constitution, says addressing occupation-era and more recent politically related crimes is essential to stamping out a propensity for using violence as a means of resolving disputes.

"It's a society that has not repaired itself from its gruesome past... a society that frequently turns to violence when there are differences of opinion," she said.

Borges added that there was a constitutional duty to take legal action when people had been victimized. "The state isn't here to pick and choose people's rights; it's here to guarantee them."

Political parties & elections

Ramos-Horta dismisses polls violence

Agence France Presse - September 22, 2011

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta today dismissed fears the country will see a return of turmoil and violence ahead of elections next year.

Ramos-Horta, 61, who has held his post since 2007, also said he was "reluctant" to seek a second term and was considering stepping aside.

East Timor won formal independence in 2002, three years after a UN-backed referendum that saw an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia, whose 24-year occupation cost an estimated 200,000 lives.

The country has been largely peaceful since 2006, when rioting and factional fighting brought it to the brink of civil war.

But fears have been raised that East Timor's fragile stability will be tested in the coming months ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, which are due by mid-2012.

"We are not going back to the violence of the past," said Ramos-Horta, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his role in fighting for the country's independence as its exiled spokesman for 24 years.

"I know the pulse of the people, the mood the political leadership. People are much happier today... they are much more hopeful and optimistic. I have met with all the political leaders in the recent past. Everybody is committed to clean, fair elections and will accept the results peacefully."

Some foreign businessmen are already talking quietly about quitting the country during the election build-up, amid widely held fears of turmoil, with land disputes, corruption, rivalries and resentments simmering.

The local police are "very capable" of handling any unrest, Ramos-Horta told AFP in an interview after speaking to investors at a forum in Hong Kong.

About 1200 UN police are still stationed in East Timor, in addition to about 500 Australian-led troops under a separate security mandate, and analysts say the local police are incapable of dealing with even minor situations.

Ramos-Horta, the second post-independence president after Xanana Gusmao – the current prime minister – also said he is not keen to defend his post next year.

"I am extremely reluctant to seek a second term," he said. "Even if I am certain that I will be re-elected – most (recent) indicators say I will be easily re-elected – but I believe it is good for the maturity of our democracy that someone like me can consider stepping aside."

According to US cables released by WikiLeaks today, American diplomats felt Ramos-Horta believed himself to be "above local politics" and had let his Nobel peace prize "go to his head". His office did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

Testing times for East Timor as polls loom

Agence France Presse - September 12, 2011

Stephen Coates – East Timor's fragile stability will be tested in coming months as the country's political and business elite manoeuvre ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012.

Some foreign businessmen are already talking quietly about quitting the country during the election build-up, amid widely held fears of turmoil and possible violence.

Festering anger over unpunished crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation, land disputes, corruption and rivalries in the security forces are simmering beneath the otherwise sleepy surface of East Timor's seaside capital.

Underlying everything is the potential for instability that stalks almost all energy-rich developing countries with billions of dollars in oil revenues accumulating in government coffers.

The IMF calls East Timor the "most oil-dependent economy in the world", with petroleum income accounting for around 95 percent of total government revenue in 2009.

"The reality is we are a post-conflict country, we've got a large chunk of young people who are unemployed... and a lot of conflict as a result of our history," opposition Fretilin party spokesman Jose Teixeira said. "I think we've taken some steps forward but we haven't done that well."

The United Nations handed policing responsibilities to local police in March, more than a decade after UN-backed troops entered the country following East Timor's historic 1999 vote to split from Indonesia.

There are still around 1,200 UN police in East Timor, or Timor-Leste as it is formally known, in addition to about 500 Australian-led troops under a separate security mandate.

The UN mission is due to wind up after presidential polls slated for April and a parliamentary vote in June, with Libya looming as the world body's next likely nation-building project.

But analysts say East Timor's police are still incapable of dealing with even minor unrest, and accuse them of having links to shadowy martial arts gangs responsible for frequent outbreaks of violence.

Observers saw echoes of 2006 – when rioting and factional fighting brought the country to the brink of civil war – in gang-related violence last month in Zumalai, on the southern coast.

Mobs of martial arts gang members set fire to dozens of homes as they rampaged through the town after one of their number, a police officer and former independence guerrilla, was murdered.

Gang leaders in Dili denied involvement in organised violence, but security analyst Nelson Belo said there was ample evidence that political factions were using martial arts groups as muscle.

"In your country if something happens you immediately call the police. In East Timor you call 'big brother', which means the gang," Belo told AFP.

"There are a lot of 'big brothers' in the community. The police will come after everything has happened to pick up the dead bodies or evacuate the victims."

He said a culture of impunity had developed in the country of around a million people under the leadership of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who have put reconciliation before justice.

As a result, East Timorese who joined pro-Indonesian militias during the bloodshed surrounding the independence referendum have started returning from exile in the knowledge they will not be prosecuted for their crimes.

Belo describes the returnee issue as a "time bomb" and fears the election could act as a detonator.

"We should be preparing for the domestic violence that we face every day, but we haven't," he said, criticising the police for "acting as a paramilitary with big machine guns" instead of engaging with the community.

Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres – a possible presidential candidate – acknowledged the country faced many problems, but said fears of a repeat of the 2006 crisis were overblown.

"Even Darwin has a crime rate higher than Timor, and Dili is more safe than many capitals around the world," he said, referring to the northern Australian city nearest to Dili.

The government has introduced pensions for veterans of the independence struggle so that no former fighters feel marginalised or aggrieved. "You have to have stability in a holistic way, you can't just look at policing," he said.

Gutteres and Teixeira come from different sides of politics but both agreed the main parties had little to gain from stirring up trouble ahead of the polls.

"Everybody understands that... if you love this country and you love our people, we can't afford another crisis," Teixeira said.

"If we have another... crisis, that's it, it's the end. It's failed state status. But we didn't fall off that brink in 2006 and I don't think we will now."

Is East Timor's former army chief preparing for a presidential run

ABC Radio Australia - September 9, 2011

The head of East Timor's armed forces stepped down last week, leading to speculation he may be preparing to run for President in nest year's elections.

Major General Taur Matan Ruak is a veteran of East Timor's independence struggles and a high profile military man.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Professor Damien Kingsbury, School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University

Kingsbury: Well, that's a good question, he hasn't specifically stated why his resigned. He certainly had a good run as leader of Falintil East Timor Defence Force, but, of course, there is considerable speculation now that he's got into high on a political career.

Cochrane: And as a leading figure in the military, how popular is he?

Kingsbury: Look, military figures have high standing in East Timor. Taur Matan Ruak was the head of Falintil until the guerilla organisation, after the arrest of Xanana Gusmao in the early 90s. So he certainly has a very high profile and he's very well known. The real question is whether he would have sufficient support to run for a position such as the presidency and whether he would have the backing of any particular political parties. At this stage, I think Fretilin will be supporting Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres, their last candidate and he was also one of the guerilla fighters in Falintil, so he's a strong candidate. Jose Ramos Horta, the current president may stand again. He's obviously going to be a very popular candidate if he goes and there will be a whole host of others who will have the support of their parties. It's not clear at this stage if Taur Matan Ruak would have support of a political party.

Cochrane: Is there any indication about whether President Jose Ramos Horta will be running again. He's sort of kept his cards pretty close to his chest so far?

Kingsbury: Yes, there's some ambiguity about that. He's indicated at different times that perhaps he wouldn't run, but he's made a very substantial contribution to the East Timorese political life over very many years and of course he was shot a few years ago and to some extent, although he's recovered very well. I think that did take his toll on him and perhaps he's now saying it's time to step back and let others have a go. But on the other hand, there's also a view that perhaps that generation of political leadership needs to stay in the saddle for one more round in order to allow a younger generation to become better grounded so that they can take over in a few years time.

Cochrane: If Taur Matan Ruak does take a tilt at the presidency next year, is there an understanding as to which party he might align himself with?

Kingsbury: No, no, that's the key point at this stage that there's no clear political alignment there and I think that for him to have a strong chance at the presidency, he would need the backing of one of the larger parties, such as CNRT. At this stage, that's not at all clear that he would have that sort of backing. So, of course, politics in East Timor is always a little bit fluid and there's always going to be some discussion around that. But I think that if Jose Ramos Horta was to stand again, that he would probably receive most if not all of the backing that he received in 2007 and that would probably include all of the major parties, but Fretilin.

Cochrane: Who has replaced the major general at the top of the armed forces?

Kingsbury: Lere (Anan) Timur a former commander of the eastern zone of East Timor has now assumed the leadership of the East Timor defence force. Lere's also a guerilla from the Falintil days, the anti-Indonesia days and he has a very strong standing. He's very well known. Lere's understood to be something of a military hardliner in that he regards civilian politics as useful only for as long as it works well and to some extent Taur Matan Ruak has also had a sceptical view of civilian politics, particularly around issues of 2006, where there was a view that if the civilians couldn't run the country properly, then perhaps there needed to be a bit more intervention from military, a bit more control from the military. Fortunately that wasn't ultimately the case. But I think when we look at Lere, he's certainly of that view that the East Timor defence force should have a stronger role in domestic affairs, particularly around policing type activities and so on and that's obviously quite controversial.

East Timor Army chief resigns ahead of polls

Agence France Presse - September 2, 2011

Dili, East Timor – The head of East Timor's armed forces, Major General Taur Matan Ruak, said Friday he had resigned, ahead of a possible run for the presidency in elections next year.

The veteran of East Timor's resistance struggle against Indonesia's occupation said that after three decades in the military he wanted to return to civilian life.

"Yesterday I handed my resignation letter to the president [Jose Ramos- Horta] and his excellency the prime minister [Xanana Gusmao]," Ruak told reporters in Dili.

"Because I have already served the armed forces for 36 years I think I want to go back to civilian life."

As for his presidential aspirations, Ruak said he would wait until next year to announce whether he would contest the March 2012 polls. "I want to serve those who suffered for this nation," Ruak said.

Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres said the government had accepted Ruak's resignation during a cabinet meeting on Friday in Dili. "The letter has been accepted by the government," he told AFP.

Nobel prize laureate Ramos-Horta has not publicly announced he will seek re-election but Guterres said it had been "very obvious" for months that he intended to run.

In August, East Timor officially disbanded the Falintil pro-independence militia, which had fought against Indonesian rule for more than two decades. East Timor became fully independent in 2002.

Around 500 foreign troops under the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force are based in the small country to support local security forces.

Media & journalism

Crusading journalism lives in Dili

The Australian - September 28, 2011

Simon Caterson – For local journalists in East Timor, breaking the news could mean being broken themselves. Then there's the difficulty of grasping the complex political narratives of this newly democratic nation.

"To the outsider, East Timor politics and society is labyrinthine," says Melbourne filmmaker Nicholas Hansen. "I wanted to find out if this view is shared by local journalists."

The physical, legal and financial precariousness of their position is the subject of Hansen's new documentary film, Breaking the News. Nearly five years in the making, the film had its world premiere in May at the Dungog Film Festival in the NSW Hunter Valley and is due to be screened next month in Sydney as part of the Antenna International Documentary Film Festival. And according to Hansen, whose previous film Rash won the Film Critics Circle of Australia award in 2005 for best documentary, it all came about by chance.

Hansen was in East Timor during the military crisis of May 2006, researching another project, when he became fascinated by the dedication and courage of East Timorese journalists. They worked without the financial resources or protection enjoyed by their foreign colleagues yet were essential in gathering information on events in East Timor that were then relayed across the world.

Hansen was struck by the level of international media interest. "I didn't set out to make a story about the media but it dawned on me that how the story was being covered was a story that needed telling," he says. "There were media in East Timor from around the world... All the former colonial occupiers were there, plus others, including Australians."

The reliance on sometimes imperilled local knowledge very soon became apparent, says Hansen, who worked alone in East Timor. As did the different attitudes towards conflict between local and foreign reporters.

"I was in a car with some Portuguese journalists and we were looking for the source of some gunshots around Dili," he says. "Journalists run towards gunfire, so when sporadic shooting was heard, a whole bunch in cars and on motorbikes showed up. After that incident, we pulled in to a local newspaper [office] and one of the Portuguese journalists went to check what was happening, but the office was vacant. The local journalists had fled."

Breaking the News includes accounts of local journalists being beaten, threatened and sued for defamation. The film traces the often fraught daily working lives of two journalists, Jose Belo and Rosa Garcia, as they seek to uncover corruption and injustice while reporting on events such as the ethnic unrest that erupted in 2006, the resignation of prime minister Mari Alkatiri after allegations Alkatiri had ordered a hit squad to kill his opponents and the attempted assassinations of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in February 2008.

The assassination plot allegedly was carried out by rebel soldiers led by Alfredo Reinado, who was shot dead during the ensuing gun battle. The film ends with the trial of the remaining rebels, who surrendered in April 2008 and were eventually pardoned in August last year by Ramos-Horta.

The camera follows the two main characters as they attend press briefings and editorial meetings, waiting to ask questions outside leaders' offices and sitting in on court proceedings. We see Belo, in particular, working on location with overseas colleagues, often acting in the role of interpreter.

As well as directing, Hansen wrote and produced the film. He operated the camera, assisted with the editing and even plays the xylophone on the soundtrack.

According to Hansen, East Timorese journalists operate under pressure from unseen forces who may be displeased by media scrutiny. They work in bare offices on newspapers put together literally by hand by volunteers, as the film shows in the opening sequence. "Breaking the News encourages the viewer to listen to Jose and Rosa as they reflect on what they need to know to render their story more complete. These gutsy, under-resourced local journalists are our primary source for news from East Timor."

The right to report without fear or favour in East Timor is hard won. Belo was imprisoned during the occupation for long periods and tortured by Indonesian authorities for his political activism. "Being an ex-Falintil resistance fighter, Jose, now a journalist and publisher, is such an idealistic and interesting character," Hansen says. "The character of the crusading journalist speaks volumes for the aspirations of the East Timorese people."

In addition to interviews with journalists, Breaking the News has interviews with Ramos-Horta, who recounts being shot, and Alkatiri. Gusmao was not available.

One scoop for Hansen was an interview with a soldier guarding the presidential residence. The interview happened soon before Ramos-Horta returned to Dili from Darwin where he was hospitalised after the assassination attempt. The soldier claims to have shot Reinado, a claim quickly denied by a relative of Ramos-Horta, who was also interviewed by Hansen at the presidential residence. According to Breaking the News, exactly who shot Ramos-Horta and the precise circumstances of Reinado's death remain unclear.

Breaking the News also airs doubts from Garcia about the accuracy of a report by the ABC TV current affairs program Four Corners detailing the existence of a hit squad that led to the resignation of Alkatiri as prime minister. Garcia was a contact for the Four Corners team after the paper she worked for was shut down during the 2006 civil unrest. She claims there were flaws in the way Four Corners went about constructing its report, despite advice she gave. In response, Four Corners denies receiving such advice from Garcia and stands by the program. According to Hansen's film, the truth behind this episode, like so much else that went on in East Timorese politics during filming, remains elusive even to experienced local journalists.

Breaking the News leaves the viewer with the impression that the intrigue of East Timorese politics runs so deep that local journalists do not always know what is happening and why. The two journalists at the centre of the film are quite candid about their inability to understand the events they try to cover. Their work continues despite an atmosphere of Kafka-esque obliqueness, even hostility, towards the role of a free press.

Hansen says: "For the East Timorese resistance to survive 25 years of foreign occupation it needed to work with invisible hands, leaving minimal trace. Are the opaque qualities of East Timorese society a remnant of this time?"

Graft & corruption

East Timor opposition calls for premier to resign

Agence France Presse - September 9, 2011

East Timor's opposition called Thursday for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to step down as his cabinet faces scrutiny over corruption claims ahead of elections.

The anti-corruption commission said Monday it had handed six dossiers to the Attorney-General's Office, which has since called on two cabinet members for questioning.

"Because of his mistakes, I ask Xanana to step down so that we can eradicate corruption in the government. If we can't, then we are stealing our people's money," Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri told party members at a congress meeting.

Finance Minister Emilia Pires and Justice Minister Lucia Lobato have been called in by prosecutors, but factions of the ruling Fretilin party say that several other members are implicated in graft cases as well.

Alkatiri, who served for four years as the tiny half-island nation's first prime minister from 2002, accused Gusmao of weak leadership and said corruption was making the poor in East Timor poorer.

"In my era, any mistake by Fretilin or any minister was my fault. Now it is never the fault of the prime minister – the ministers themselves are blamed."

The criticisms were made in Gusmao's absence, as he attended the Pacific Island Forum in Auckland.

The prime minister's spokesman Naikoly Antonio Ramos Andre said that the presidential and parliamentary elections, slated for next year, were too soon to call for a leadership change.

"Just look at the calendar. Comments like this ahead of elections are expected from the opposition."

A crackdown on corruption is likely to be a major election platform in the nation of 1.1 million, where the majority live in rural areas in poor conditions.

The oil-rich country won formal independence in 2002, three years after a UN-backed referendum that saw an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia, whose 24-year occupation of the country cost an estimated 200,000 lives.

Land disputes & evictions

Timor-Leste: Regulating land ownership 'key to stability'

IRIN News - September 29, 2011

Dili – Atoki Madeira says it started with threats and escalated into armed assaults. The 40-year-old Timorese NGO worker alleges the attacks stemmed from a dispute over a property she purchased in the Timorese capital, Dili, a decade ago.

The perpetrators were men from the east who, over several years, settled in and around her property in an attempt to squeeze her out, she says.

Her efforts to seek support from the police and courts have largely come to naught. She has abandoned her property and pitted her hopes on an intervention by the country's president. "I'm afraid for my life. There are people who want to kill me," Madeira told IRIN.

One of many growing pains for this country are land disputes, which remain a potentially combustible issue in Timor-Leste, say analysts.

Land tenure lies at the core of how the country is defined, says Cillian Nolan, a Dili-based researcher for the International Crisis Group, who wrote a report published last year on the issue.

New land tenure legislation raises difficult questions for the government, he says. "What reparations must it make for the wrongs of [the Portuguese and Indonesian regimes]... and how will it enforce the rule of law?"

Tension over land rights is particularly raw because "food consumption, income and security are largely measured by control of and access to land", notes a 2006 report by USAID on the underlying causes of an army insurrection that year in which dozens were killed and some 150,000 people displaced.

The report by the US government's aid wing identified uncertainty over land rights as one of the most likely triggers of future violence in the half- island nation.

History of upheaval

From 1975 to 1999, Timor-Leste was ruled by the Indonesian army, which frequently confiscated land and forcibly relocated communities to break up resistance networks.

Previously, Portuguese colonists imposed onerous taxes that forced some to sell their property and work as landless share-croppers and wage labourers. When Timor-Leste achieved independence in 1999, most of the land was occupied without official title deeds.

Land claims have become further complicated in recent years following episodes of violence – including the 2006 army uprising – that forced people to relocate and sometimes squat on vacant properties.

Formally regulating land tenure is essential to reduce rural poverty, improve food security and minimize the likelihood of episodes of mass violence in the future, wrote Daniel Fitpatrick, a professor at New York University's Law School, who has focused on land issues in the Pacific region, in a 2010 report commissioned by the World Bank.

"There is an urgent need for legal certainty relating to ownership of rural land, mechanisms for investors to seek access to rural land, and safeguards relating to food and livelihoods security in rural districts," he said.

Horacio da Silva, an official at the Land Department, says his office would benefit from the passage of a land law that was proposed in 2010 but has yet to be voted on in parliament because, say observers, it is politically sensitive.

The law would grant titles to undisputed land, initiate a specific system for resolving land disputes outside civilian courts, and offer formal recognition of plots claimed by villages as "communal land" – a category of ownership with long roots, but no formal legal basis, in Timor-Leste.

Land titling advances

Making headway is Ita Nia Rai, a project that is on the verge of being able to issue title deeds for about a quarter of the total parcels of land in the country.

Started in 2007, it is funded by USAID and operated by Tetra Tech, a global engineering, construction and management consultancy. Ita Nia Rai has organized cadastral surveys for each property under its purview, establishing ownership of 91 percent of some 47,000 parcels of urban land it reviewed.

A government motion passed in July will pave the way for the property claims established by Ita Nia Rai to be converted into formal land titles. "Many disputes can be resolved once specific systems are put in place," says Kim Glenn, the project's head.

Ita Nia Rai's system has been effective because it is accessible, interactive and transparent, he says. "Disputes fester in an environment where the information is not easy to understand or to share with others."

He says his organization would like to extend its processes to rural areas but this expansion would require the government first to legally define what constitutes "community land", a step that would require the passage of the land law proposed in 2010. (bb/ds/mw)

Foreign affairs & trade

East Timor forges ties with Melanesian countries

ABC News - September 15, 2011

East Timor's foreign minister Zacarias da Costa says his country is keen to work closely with Melanesian countries to assist them in economic development.

The comment comes ahead of his visit to Vanuatu with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao this week. "We have a lot in common with the Pacific region – culturally in terms of linguistically, but also in terms of wants and ties of friendship," Mr da Costa said.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) granted East Timor observer status earlier this year. Mr da Costa said East Timor would play an advisory role to the MSG on economic and fiscal matters.

"Being part of this important group – MSG – is also part of our strategy of regional integration," he said.

Mining & energy

Timor-Leste: Communities left in dark over controversial power plant

IRIN News - September 23, 2011

Hera – A cornerstone of the government's development plan is a promise to electrify every home in Timor-Leste within just a few years. But communities living in the shadow of the power plant supposed to jumpstart this transformation know little or nothing about its impact.

"We don't know what problems it might cause because we don't even know anything about it," says Gregorio Jesus Perreira, 55, who lives 1km from the power plant's main site.

Perreira went to the capital city, Dili, to ask officials at the Ministry of Environment why the plant had been placed within a community rather than in an unpopulated area. Their response, says Perreira, was that relocating it at this point was not viable.

Demetrio do Amaral, head of Haburas Foundation, a Dili-based environmental NGO that tried unsuccessfully to contest the construction of the Hera power plant in the courts, says a few thousand people live within 1km of the power plant.


Since its inception in 2008, the power plant in the coastal town of Hera in this half-island nation has been controversial.

Construction was greenlighted by the government without an environmental impact assessment or any publically released assessment of its financial viability.

The government initially purchased two second-hand heavy fuel generators from China for the plant. After it was pilloried for purchasing technology deemed by many countries to be too harsh on the environment, the government ordered a duel-fuel generator from Finland that can use either heavy oil or natural gas, which is less polluting, but observers say the exact design of the plant is constantly changing.

Most countries are moving away from such technology or have already stopped using it as it creates acid rain, water pollution, toxic solid waste, particulate air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, say activists.

Heavy oil is the by-product left after oil is refined. Burning it as fuel causes air and water pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory health problems, says Rui Pinto, a biologist and founder of Rai, an environmental consulting group. As a result, he said, people should not live within a 10km radius of the plant.

But midway through the plant's construction, residents continue to live within a stone's throw of the construction site and complain they have yet to be informed of any plans to relocate them.

Sarmento Antonio do Rosario, a 66-year-old fisherman who lives right nextdoor, says that, in 2008, visiting officials told him the government would wait until the plant was operating before trying to assess its impact on surrounding communities.

He and other fishermen in the area, he says, are concerned about the plant's emissions and the possibility that spent oil will be carelessly dumped – and the consequences for the fish.

Powering development?

Few question the need to boost the country's electricity supply. What little power infrastructure existed in Timor-Leste at the turn of the century was destroyed in 1999, when the country won independence, by retreating Indonesian soldiers and the local militias they sponsored.

The country's current power system consists of several dozen diesel-powered generators that in total produce about 40MW of electricity, enough for only about a third of the population in limited doses, according to the government.

Limited electrification presents numerous obstacles to the country's development. As the Prime Minister's office states in its Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030: "Access to electricity is a basic right and the foundation of our economic future."

The report outlines a vision for the young country's development over the next two decades. "We will take action to ensure that by 2015 everyone in Timor-Leste will have access to reliable electricity 24 hours a day."

Spending balance

But observers say the government has taken an errant path in its attempt to reach this goal, ignoring the project's impact on surrounding communities and residents.

In addition to what critics charge is government negligence in considering the project's environmental impact and related effects on neighbouring communities, concerns over the project's financial management have grown as its price tag has surged from US$367.1 million to $628.7 million, according to La'o Hamutuk, a local NGO.

To government watchdog groups such as La'o Hamutuk, the Hera plant's cost has made electrification a development priority at the expense of other sectors in equally dire need of funding.

So far this year, the government has spent more on infrastructure – mostly on the Hera plant – than on all other government programmes combined. (bb/ds/mw)

Finance & banking

East Timor's banking and payments authority to be replaced by Central Bank

Macau Hub - September 9, 2011

Dili – The new monetary authority of East Timor will be called the East Timor Central Bank and will be inaugurated on 13 September, according to information published on the Central Banks of Portuguese-speaking Countries website.

The mission of the new monetary authority, which will replace the East Timor Banking and Payments Authority (ABP), is to carry out policies to maintain domestic price stability, which will include providing the economy with liquidity, along with regulating and supervising the banking market and, in the future, the insurance market.

The Central Bank Law was approved by the National Parliament and signed off by President Jose Ramos-Horta on 15 June of this year. (macauhub)

Analysis & opinion

Timorese socialism today

Direct Action - September 2011

Max Lane – I was very active between 1991 and 1999 in the international solidarity movement for Timorese independence. During that time, I worked with a variety of Timorese individuals and political groups. Based in Sydney, as a member of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), I worked closely with the local Fretilin committee, comprising Timorese exiles and their children. Some had come to Australia in the 1970s, others in the 1990s, after the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili.

As a member of ASIET, and as an academic writing about Indonesia, I also often visited Indonesia during the 1990s. It was in Indonesia that I first met the Timorese socialists, whose leader was Avelino Coelho. Avelino was in Jakarta, working clandestinely for the Timorese resistance while studying. He had been active in the resistance in Timor in the 1980s also. He formed a small group of Timorese socialist activists in Bali, Java and Timor. I maintained contact with Avelino throughout the late 1990s, including after he moved back to Dili prior to the 1999 referendum.

After Xanana Gusmao returned to Dili, Avelino was appointed a member of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), an unusual move by Gusmao, because the Timorese Socialist Party (PST), which Avelino led, was not a member. The CNRT was the shadow government during the period of United Nations administration, up until the formation of Timor's first elected government.

I first met Avelino inside Timor itself, along with other members of the PST, in 1999, just after the Australian army, in the form of Interfet, had entered Timor and the Indonesian army and its militias had withdrawn. The PST was the first political or activist group to set up an office in Dili, squatting in the building of the old Indonesian Department of Public Works. It still occupies the building today – although it was badly damaged when "unknown elements" set fire to it after Avelino joined the Xanana Gusmao government in 2008. I spent two weeks with the PST in Dili, also making some visits to village areas. Their energy was astounding, and their office was a hive of activity, while other groups and NGOs waited for the UN to arrive before setting up operations.

I kept in touch with Avelino over the following 12 years, writing articles based on phone and email communications. Although I visited and lived off and on in Indonesia during those 12 years, and occasionally also bumped into Avelino in Indonesia, I did not return to Timor until 2010, when President Jose Ramos Horta invited me to come and see the country whose independence I had supported in the 1990s. Once again I was able to meet up with the PST and Avelino, in both Dili and the countryside.

Participation in elections

The PST participated in both the 2002 and 2007 parliamentary elections, and Avelino stood in the presidential elections. In 2002, the PST garnered 1.8% of the vote, but in 2007 it dropped to 0.96%, although the vote for Avelino as a presidential candidate reached 8338 or 2.06%. At the time, Avelino told me that the party organisation had collapsed, revealing that a large proportion of the membership had been recruited on an insufficiently serious basis. Even in 2007, however, the PST increased its vote in the six villages where it had started. In a recent email interview, a leading PST militant, Constancio dos Santos, known as Aquita, explained: "In the previous Fretilin-dominated parliament, an amendment to the electoral law was passed setting a threshold of 3% as the minimum national vote required for any party". In 2002, the PST won one seat in parliament and under the old law would have won two seats in 2007. However Fretilin's amendment, seemingly aimed at keeping out new, smaller parties, meant that the PST no longer had parliamentary representation.

After the 2007 elections, Xanana Gusmao, who had formed and led the new National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), was able to forge a majority coalition in the parliament, and thus form government. Gusmao became prime minister at the head of the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) government.

Energy policy

Although the PST was not a member of the AMP and never attended AMP meetings, Gusmao offered Avelino the position of secretary of state for energy policy, essentially a lesser ministry, but with a seat in the Council of Ministers, i.e. the cabinet. Avelino accepted. In that position, he has been responsible for formulating and then implementing policies for bringing electricity into rural villages. More than 8000 households (probably 40,000 plus people) have been given access to electricity, through solar panels, bio-gas or bio-energy under this ongoing program, despite the ministry receiving a very small budget. The villages receive the electricity free, and there is no private sector involvement in the implementation. Electricity for a national grid and in the towns is the responsibility of other ministries.

While holding the energy policy position, Avelino has continued to lead the rebuilding of the PST after the disappointing results of 2007. According to Aquita, "The PST will stand in the 2012 elections. We still have a strong base in the original six villages where we started, and we now have 60,000 dues paying members overall. In addition, there are another 250 villages where there are strong emotional ties between the village and the PST president... We are confident we can win at least five seats in parliament."

According to Aquita, Avelino may not stand as president this time, but may support the candidacy of Taur Matan Ruak, the former guerrilla leader who recently resigned as commander of the armed forces. The PST is still considering whether or not to work in a coalition with the CNRT. Jose Ramos Horta is the current president but has repeatedly stated that he will not stand again.


Aquita added that the PST will campaign using its 2007 program, which emphasised the development of cooperatives, especially agricultural, and a strong public sector. "The campaign slogan we have already been using is 'Land for the farmers, and ownership in the factories for the workers' or 'Shares for the workers', he told me via email. "We have also been campaigning to convince people of the prospects for industrial type development for water, coconut, kemiri nuts and jatropha, among other crops, as well as for better development of paddy rice." As a part of its education and campaigning on cooperatives, the PST requires every village base committee to form agricultural cooperatives to set an example.

Aquita also emphasised two specific policy demands, clearly aimed at rectifying previous government policies. "We want the repeal of the law that granted pensions for life for all members of parliament and other state officials, passed by the first parliament, dominated by Fretilin. This happened during the prime ministership of Estanislau da Silva from Fretilin", he said. "In 2003 Fretilin reinstituted into the constitution a clause, taken from colonial law... that made all homes and property from the Indonesian and Portuguese periods private property. The constitution had stated that all land and property left from the Portuguese and Indonesian periods should become state property."

"The people need to make a judgement on the politicians in 2012; there has to be a sorting out of the national leadership, as, despite some positive developments under this government, there have also been quite a few negative developments." Aquita sees the "populist" and "humanist" aspects of the Gusmao government as positive: pensions and better conditions for old people, disabled people and people with mental disorders. "But more needs to be done, in terms of work opportunities and better housing for these people."

Aquita also thinks that the government's policies of providing funds for middle class, or "petty bourgeoisie", to carry out business projects and accumulate capital has some humanistic features. "However, this is also creating a big wealth gap. These middle class people are not re-investing their money [to increase production]. The money just goes on buying all the major basic commodities, which come from Indonesia." These policies are made possible by very large increases in government revenue, from royalties on oil and gas in the Timor Sea.

"There must be policies and laws to enable workers to own their own industries", Aquita said. Agricultural cooperatives and worker-owned manufacturing – even in the small scale processing of agricultural products, including coffee – are what the PST emphasises as the necessary policies to develop Timor and to break from what Aquita calls "the dependence created during the UN transition period, and based on World Bank policy advice. The people don't have economic liberation."

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