Alkatiri Attacks Australian Interference In Timor
AIM (Moçambique) - Friday 24/11/2006
Maputo, 24 Nov (AIM) - The former prime minister
of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, on a private visit
to Mozambique, has accused the Australian
government of interference in Timorese internal affairs.
Despite the fact that he leads the Timorese
liberation movement Fretilin (Revolutionary Front
for an Independent East Timor), which remains the
country's largest and most popular political
party, Alkatiri was forced to resign earlier this
year in what has been described as "a constitutional coup d'etat".
The immediate cause of the violence that wracked
East Timor in late May was a mutiny by Timorese
troops who had been sacked from the armed forces
and were led by a man who had played no role in
the struggle against Indonesian occupation, but
spent the years of war in comfortable exile in Australia.
The violence was used as an excuse to destabilise
the Timorese government and remove Alkatiri,
bitterly disliked in the Australian establishment
because of his tough (and successful) negotiating
stance over the oil reserves under the Timor Sea.
Alkatiri lived in exile in Maputo for many years,
and has returned to see old friends. In an
interview published in Friday's issue of the
independent weekly "Savana", Alkatiri stressed
his belief that there had been an Australian hand in forcing his resignation.
Over the previous year and a half, he noted, the
Australian media "launched a deliberate campaign
to denigrate the image of the Timorese government
and of Fretilin in general, and my image in particular".
At the height of the May/June crisis, Australia's
right-wing prime minister John Howard, Alkatiri
added, "was the only political leader who
declared that he wanted me to resign, in a clear
act of interference in the internal affairs of Timor".
Clearly the oil negotiations were a weighty
factor behind this. "The negotiations were
tough", said Alkatiri, "and I strongly defended
Timorese interests. In one block, we got rights
to 90 per cent, when initially we had only been
allocated 50 per cent, and in another we got 50
per cent instead of the initial offer of 18 per cent".
Asked about the role of the Catholic Church, the
religion followed by most Timorese, Alkatiri
replied "I don't much like to talk about the
church as an institution, but it's a fact that
part of the hierarchy was militantly opposed to the government".
"I have no doubts in stating that the Catholic
Church played the role of an opposition,
organising demonstrations for two or three weeks", he added.
A complicating factor is that Alkatiri himself is
not a christian, but comes from a moslem family.
"I admit that the fact that I'm a moslem, in an
overwhelmingly catholic country, may be difficult
for some catholic sectors to accept", he said.
As for the trumped-up charges that Alkatiri had
distributed guns to civilians, the UN's
commission of inquiry had found no proof, but
nonetheless recommended continued investigation.
Alkatiri was not surprised, and regarded this as
a way to save the face of those Timorese
politicians, notably President Xanana Gusmao, who
had forced his resignation. "The way the UN
report was presented shows clearly they don't
want to affectthose in power", he said. For if
the UN had clearly stated there was no basis for
the accusations against him, "then what would the
position of the President have looked like, since
he asked for my resignation precisely because of those charges ?"
Alkatiri dismissed rumours that he had come to
Mozambique to escape Timorese justice. He had
told the Attorney-General in advance of his
travel plans, and he had given him his contact numbers.
Furthermore, Alkatiri remains in regular contact
with the man who replaced him as Prime Minister,
Jose Ramos-Horta. "In Timor, we meet once a
week", he said. "When I'm abroad, we speak regularly on the phone".
Fretilin had given Ramos-Horta's government its
backing. Ramos-Horta had inherited the Alkatiri
government's ambitious plans, but Alkatiri
thought he had been "unable to define clearly the
difficulties and tackle them frontally".
In particular, Ramos-Horta had not re-established
law and order, and the authority of the state, or
solved the problems of those displaced in the
May-June fighting. "That should have been a
priority, and it wasn't", said Alkatiri.
He was sharply critical of Gusmao. Although he
did not believe the President was initially
involved in the plans to topple the Alkatiri
government, he came on board later, and showed
"the unjustifiable hatred he has for Fretilin".
Alkatiri admitted the key role that Gusmao played
in the resistance to Indonesian occupation,
following the death of Fretilin's first leader,
Nicolau Lobato. Gusmao introduced a new style of
leadership, very much centred on his own person -
and in the dark years of the 1980s, Alkatiri
admitted, this worked and the resistance
survived. Gusmao was the de facto leader of
Fretilin, even when he formally separated himself from the party.
But when independence came, the situation was
radically changed. Fretilin reorganised, and
Gusmao was outside of the party structures.
"President Xanana's great problem is that he has
lost the leadership of Fretilin", said Alkatiri.
"You can't try to lead a party if you are outside
of it. Only those who are prepared to subordinate
themselves to Fretilin structures can lead
Fretilin. What the President wants is, at the
least, irrational. That was where our quarrels began".
Alkatiri said he did not want to be Fretilin's
candidate for prime minister at the next
elections. Instead, he would prefer to work to build up the party.