Trouble in Timor Leste.
June 4, 2006 5:30 PM   Subscribe

HumanitarianCrisisFilter; Timor Leste, formerly known as East Timor, is on the brink of civil war today. The crisis began after a group of soldiers from the western part of the country claimed that they were being discriminated against in favor of soldiers from the eastern part of the country. During a protest they and their supporters were shot at by security forces after the soldiers apparently attacked a market run by people from the eastern part of the country. What followed was a campaign of violence and intimidation against both soldiers loyal to the government and many innocent civilians, led by the renegade soldiers and their supporters. After gaining permission from the Timorese government, a multi-national task force led by Australia has been operating in Timor Leste for the past two weeks, but the violence has shown little sign of stopping. But even with warnings coming from Australia that Timor Leste must not be allowed to become a failed nation lest it become a haven for terrorists and other criminal activity, at least the situation has provided us with one good laugh (video link).

For those interested in a more comprehensive overview of how the crisis in Timor Leste has unfolded, check out the ABC's timeline of events leading up to the crisis currently engulfing the worlds youngest nation.
posted by Effigy2000 (25 comments total)
Odd how australia-spesific news about East Timor is.
posted by delmoi at 5:38 PM on June 4, 2006

Not really, given that they are only 400 miles from Darwin (a point immortalised in song in The Whitlam's "400 Miles From Darwin"). They're practtically part of us, and we've had some role in all their affairs both before the Indonesian invasion and subsequently following Indonesia's withdrawl.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:46 PM on June 4, 2006

Probably because nobody apart from Australia and Indonesia gives a rats arse....

Dr Nelson was on the radio this morning asking for more asian nations to join in, try to make it seem like less of Australia's problem and more of a regional thing. Seems sensible to me, however I expect they'd all be too lazy and self-interested/short-sighted to bother. Hopefully Thailand will join in.
posted by wilful at 5:47 PM on June 4, 2006

Effigy, not 'formerly known as East Timor', how about 'known in english as East Timor, and in their official language (Portuguese) as Timor l'este'.

posted by wilful at 5:49 PM on June 4, 2006

Actually, that's a good point wilful. I should have realised that. Thanks for the correction.

posted by Effigy2000 at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2006

Australia is sending 1300 troops.
Portugal: 120 troops.
New Zealand: 120 troops.
Malaysia: 500 troops.

Watch for more to be sent, especially from other nations that helped out in 1999.
posted by furtive at 5:55 PM on June 4, 2006

There's a good piece in this week's Economist about how Australia has taken the de facto role of policeman in the Asia Pacific region and how that might be a problem in the long term.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:25 PM on June 4, 2006

Especially considering most of our troops are being deputy sherriffs elsewhere...

Australia has had a long-standing pragmatic approach to aid (which I generally agree with) that we will focus on our area, the Pacific and SE Asia, and essentially not contribute to Africa, West Asia and South America. Aid these days includes governance and policing, which seems logical. Unfortunately we're overstretched by the 'special relationship' the Man Of Steel has with the cowboy in the whitehouse, and the simultaneous breakdown of several countries in our arc.

This can only get worse, much worse if/when PNG collapses. Timor l'este is merely in the opening rounds of what the AFP and the ADF, with limited international allies, will be called upon in the next few decades.

So to prepare them for this vital policing role, we're buying Abrams, AEGIS destroyers and JSFs. Good stuff!
posted by wilful at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2006

Shakira was talking about this months ago.
posted by fire&wings at 7:24 PM on June 4, 2006

Nice to see Australia is sending more troops to East Timor than I think we ever did to Iraq.

The Kiwis are sending a few of their own, too, which is a guarantee of the moral legitimacy of the action.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:20 PM on June 4, 2006

Effigy, not 'formerly known as East Timor', how about 'known in english as East Timor, and in their official language (Portuguese) as Timor l'este'.

Pedant pwned!

The country specifies that the official English name is The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, here and here.

I think it's a bit silly -- just like the Ivory Coast specifies that their English name is the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire. Seems to me it's a cultural hypercorrection -- Deutschland, for instance, isn't asking us to stop calling them Germany.
posted by dhartung at 8:24 PM on June 4, 2006

meh. At least my pedantry was informed by ignorance. You had to go do some research.

I think it's a bit silly too. But this is a diversion.

The Red Cross Timor Leste appeal is open for donations...

posted by wilful at 8:40 PM on June 4, 2006

This just lobbed into my inbox, from Crikey, relating to PNG:

10. PNG is East Timor writ large

Christian Kerr writes:

Although the Howard Government mightn't like to talk about it, our comments last Friday about Papua New Guinea and the Arc of Instability that surrounds Australia have struck a chord with readers. Here's some of your feedback:

* It was apparent to me when working briefly on an aid project in Moresby three years ago that there were major problems within the country – the stories of lawlessness and violence relayed by expats (and reported in the newspapers, often with graphic photos that would never be published in Australia); the organised crime that appears to run gambling and prostitution in the town; the magnificent homes of some politicians; and the grinding poverty that would lead young girls to perform oral sex for two kina (approximately 80 cents Australian)…

* It is time we turned more attention to Papua New Guinea – not from any sense of neo-colonialism, but in recognition that we probably did leave too quickly at independence, and more selfishly, that if PNG fails, it will make us all wonder why we thought Solomon Islands and East Timor were dangerous and difficult problems to solve…

* It doesn't take long to work out that things aren't "normal" in Moresby – the doorman at the pub with a pump-action shotgun; guards at Chinese restaurants with big Rottweilers; the poor sergeant at a police station where we had gone to report a theft from our locked vehicle in broad daylight at a busy shopping centre who was screaming at his officers, apparently in an attempt to get them out on the street. Trouble is, if you're being driven around in an embassy car, and meeting with the “relevant minister” perhaps these slices of life aren't so obvious!

* There are 5.5 million people in PNG. How many of these would like to slip across Torres Strait for a bit of peace and prosperity? Although Papua New Guineans are traditionally attached to their “ples” (yes, I worked there for a few years), years of schooling have detached them from their culture and years of population growth have made their home villages an uncertain and insecure refuge. It will be interesting to see what an Australian government will do in a few years time in the face of thousands of Papuans boating in our direction for economic reasons.

* Your snippet on PNG was particularly apt. I'm an old PNG hand of sorts myself having spent four years up there in the 60s as a schoolteacher among other things. I find it particularly ironic that the UN should make any untoward judgements about the state of the PNG nation, just as I would never accept any adverse comment by the Australian Labor Party. The situation in PNG today can be directly sheeted home to the UN Trusteeship Council's zeal to have trust territories granted their independence whether they were ready or not, and Gough Whitlam's cynical willingness to exploit this situation for crass domestic p
olitical advantage in the late 60s-early 70s…
posted by wilful at 8:45 PM on June 4, 2006

PNG is a HUGE potential problem. You guys should be planning 24-7 for a worst case scenario, and trying to find international resources to help you with it.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:54 PM on June 4, 2006

I want to care, but.....

it seems like when anybody tries to help in these situations by throwing money and troops at it, it's like trying to bail out the Titanic with a bucket brigade. Lots of movement and effort and people, but still it's not going to make a lick of fucking difference and everyone ends up freezing their balls off in a life-boat anyway. (to carry the metaphore too far)

Flame me if you want to. I don't care. Maybe I'm just too affected by my own country's miserable record in "police actions". I'll probably feel more optimistic in the morning.
posted by Parannoyed at 11:23 PM on June 4, 2006

Odd how australia-spesific news about East Timor is.

I want to care, but.....
Maybe I'm just too affected by my own country's miserable record in "police actions"

American's always seem surprised when there is something happening in the world that has no link to them. That is my sweeping generalisation for the day...
posted by Meccabilly at 1:23 AM on June 5, 2006

It's not like there's never been trouble in East Timor before.

Well, yes, the entire point is that East Timor was a hellish mess under Indonesian occupation, and after decades of struggle (with most of the world not giving a damn) they finally managed to get independence, and it looked like things were going well, and now things are descending into a hellish mess again, which is depressing as fuck. Are you caught up now?

Parannoyed: Gosh, it sure is interesting to learn that you don't care. That makes you practically unique. No, wait, it makes you part of the vast majority of the earth's population. Congratulations, you win!
posted by languagehat at 5:27 AM on June 5, 2006

So to prepare them for this vital policing role, we're buying Abrams, AEGIS destroyers...

@wilful: I understand what you're driving at, but you may be interested to know that the oncoming Littoral Combat Ship progam incorporates features for supporting humanitarian-assistance missions into its design. Weapons-system design and procurement programs have really long timeframes built into them, so it's not all that surprising that the other ones you cite, designed largely for the latter days of the Cold War, didn't have that mission designed into them. That's a pretty drastic change when you think about it -- the military-industrial complex (USCG excepted!) is now designing its weapon systems to also participate in helping folks in distress along with its more traditional missions of breaking stuff and killing people.
posted by pax digita at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2006

It's important to note that bin Laden has said that the bombings in Bali were, in part, retaliation for the assistance given by Australia and other Western Countries in the liberation of East Timor.

It is interesting to note the history here to understand the dynamic at play.

November 28, 1975 East Timor declared independence from Portugal (of which it had been a colony for centuries), and that declaration was not opposed by Portugal.

Indonesia engaged in a land grab nine days later under the pretext that East Timor would go Communist like China. Due to the harsh realpolitik at the time, the US turned its head and permitted Indonesia to occupy and annex East Timor.

At that time, East Timor became a part of Indonesia. But, more importantly from the Bin Laden perspective, it became part of the House of Islam. And under the teachings to which Bin Laden follows, any land that ever becomes part of the House of Islam cannot be removed again.

Fast forward to 90's where growing international pressure to withdraw from East Timor was effecting Indonesia. The United States (and other UN countries, especially Australia) made an effort to redeem its prior failure to help the East Timorese by demanding that Indonesia give East Timor independence. Pres. Clinton effectively used economic leverage as the final straw. The UN finally came in, and in 2002, East Timor became officially independent.

Now, from bin Laden's perspective, it is not acceptable for East Timor to be independent from Indonesia. By his reading, the world is divided into two: the House of Islam and the House of War. Any land that is or becomes under the House of Islam can never be removed from it. All land that is in the House of War must be struggled against and brought into the House of Islam.

From an objective human rights issue, the United States willful indifference to the East Timorese in the 70's was shameful, while the US's action in the 90's was commendable. From bin Laden's perspective, the opposite is true: the US's inactions in 70's were good (or at least value neutral), and the actions in the 90's were unacceptable and deserving of retribution.

The East Timorese struggle for independence is important it its own right, but it is interesting that this little island can be a paradigm for the last two great international conflicts of the West (vs. Communism, vs. Radical Islamism).
posted by dios at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2006

Nice summary, dios.
posted by languagehat at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2006

Ditto languagehat—dios really sums the whole thing up rather neatly!
posted by Yeomans at 9:32 AM on June 5, 2006

And we all care what Bin Laden thinks.

It is worth noting that East Timor is in crisis due to matters that have, well, nothing whatsoever to do with Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, or its supposed ally, Jemaah Islamiya. This is not to say that they have no opinion on it, but supporting East Timorese independence is not in any way a fight against "radical Islamism", just as turning a blind eye to the initial Indonesian invasion was not in any way a fight against "international Communism". If East Timor *is* a paradigm for these conflicts, it may be only in the sense these -isms are, or were, practically irrelevant to the actual matters at hand, regardless of how tempting they are for demagogues to invoke, in order to pursue their own agendas.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:30 PM on June 5, 2006

My only significant difference from the dios summary is the role of the US and UN. Both were dragged by Australia and others, they didn't lead this at all, and the US was pretty irrelevant to the late 90s events. Oh and that I haven't ever really heard bin Laden say that, so the extent to which that is an interpolation is anyone's guess.

Indonesia is overall a very moderate islamic nation, I have never heard indonesians frame their differences regarding Timor Leste in a religious manner.
posted by wilful at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2006

pax digita, to be fair to the ADF, they're also buying two heavy amphibous ships, and four C-17s, that will give a greatly increased capacity to move emergency supplies around the world. Though it's still BS - the C-17s are to move Abrams, and the AEGIS are to protect the Amphibs.
posted by wilful at 6:24 PM on June 5, 2006

That is a nice summary from dios, but it is important to remember that Timor may be sitting on some very big oil reserves in the sea between it and Australia. Australian interests are best served by having a weak and dependant Timorese government which cannot negotiate rights effectively.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:45 AM on June 6, 2006

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