THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
June 22, 2006
New Statesman

East Timor: The Coup the World Missed

A secular Muslim in a largely Roman Catholic country, he is, above all, an anti-imperialist who has stood up to the bullying demands of the Howard government for an undue share of the oil and gas spoils of the Timor Gap.

by John Pilger

. . . East Timor is now an independent state, thanks to the courage of its people and a tenacious resistance led by the liberation movement Fretilin, which in 2001 swept to political power in the first democratic elections. In regional elections last year, 80 per cent of votes went to Fretilin, led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a convinced "economic nationalist", who opposes privatisation and interference by the World Bank. A secular Muslim in a largely Roman Catholic country, he is, above all, an anti-imperialist who has stood up to the bullying demands of the Howard government for an undue share of the oil and gas spoils of the Timor Gap.

On 28 April last, a section of the East Timorese army mutinied, ostensibly over pay. An eyewitness, Australian radio reporter Maryann Keady, disclosed that American and Australian officials were involved. On 7 May, Alkatiri described the riots as an attempted coup and said that "foreigners and outsiders" were trying to divide the nation. A leaked Australian Defence Force document has since revealed that Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is to "seek access" for the Australian military so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor's decision-making". A Bushite "neo-con" could not have put it better.

The opportunity for "influence" arose on 31 May, when the Howard government accepted an "invitation" by the East Timorese president, Xanana Gusmao, and foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta - who oppose Alkatiri's nationalism - to send troops to Dili, the capital. This was accompanied by "our boys to the rescue" reporting in the Australian press, together with a smear campaign against Alkatiri as a "corrupt dictator". Paul Kelly, a former editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch's Australian, wrote: "This is a highly political intervention . . . Australia is operating as a regional power or a political hegemon that shapes security and political outcomes." Translation: Australia, like its mentor in Washington, has a divine right to change another country's government. . . .

John Howard is said to be pleased with his title of George W Bush's "deputy sheriff" in the South Pacific. He recently sent troops to a rebellion in the Solomon Islands, and imperial opportunities beckon in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and other small island nations. The sheriff will approve.

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Enver Masud, "Greed At Core Of Indonesia's Timor Problem," The Wisdom Fund, September 22, 1999

[Alkatiri, in particular, raised the ire of Canberra during the protracted negotiations over the exploitation of the oil and gas reserves when he denounced the Australian government for its bullying tactics.

After four years of intransigence from Howard and Downer, the Dili government was last year forced to agree to delay the final settlement of the maritime border between the two countries for 50 to 60 years. Under international boundary law - which Australia has refused to recognise - East Timor is entitled to most of the oil and gas revenues. But Canberra finally succeeded in having Dili drop its claim of sovereignty over key resource-rich areas of the Timor Sea for two generations; by which time the main oil and gas fields will be commercially exhausted.--Nick Beams, "Why Australia wants 'regime change' in East Timor," wsws.org, May 30, 2006]

[East Timor possesses considerable oil and gas deposits. But that industry does not create many jobs, and the revenues, now growing faster than expected because of high oil prices, are yet to be felt by people like Almeida and his wife.--Jane Perlez, "Billions in aid brought East Timor little," New York Times, May 31, 2006]

[The history of East Timor independence is also the history of Australian policy flip-flops and attempts to lay hands on the vast oil deposits in the surrounding seas, now valued at over 30 billion US dollars. Yet, Australia has always painted its support for East Timorese independence as a "human rights" or "humanitarian" mission.--Kalinga Seneviratne, "EAST TIMOR: Australia - Peacekeeper or Petroleum Predator?," Inter Press Service, June 22, 2006]

Lirio da Fonseca, "Gusmao in resignation ultimatum," Reuters, June 23, 2006

Chad Bouchard, "East Timor Ruling Party Keeps Embattled PM Alkatiri," voanews.com, June 25, 2006

"Embattled East Timor PM resigns," BBC News, June 26, 2006

Jane Perlez, "A Nation-Building Project Comes Apart in East Timor," New York Times, July 14, 2006

[My Entelequia piece . . . offers a historically-grounded critique of the idea that what we did in East Timor is "humanitarian" in any meaningful sense of the term. On the contrary, East Timor was the genocidal outcome of imperial logic at its finest.--Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, "Humanitarian Intervention in East Timor: A Critical Appraisal," nafeez.blogspot.com, September 26, 2006]

Simon Tisdall, "Victims of their own success: East Timor shows signs of falling apart in the hands of the men who led the independence struggle," Guardian, August 13, 2007

[Transcripts of meetings among Indonesian dictator Mohamed Suharto, Ford, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have shown conclusively that Kissinger and Ford authorized and encouraged Suharto's murderous actions. . . .

After Ford's loss and Jimmy Carter's ascent to the White House in 1976, Indonesia requested additional arms to continue its brutal occupation, even though there was a supposed ban on arms transfers to Suharto's government. It was Carter's appointee to the Department of State's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, who authorized additional arms shipments to Indonesia during this supposed blockade. Many scholars have noted that this was the period when the Indonesian suppression of the Timorese reached genocidal levels.--Joshua Frank, "The Blood on Holbrooke's Hands," antiwar.com, August 13, 2007

[In 2006, a deal was finally signed, largely on Australia’s terms. Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, a nationalist who had stood up to Canberra and foreign interference, was in effect deposed in what he called an "attempted coup" by "outsiders". Australia has "peacekeeping" troops based in East Timor and had trained his opponents.

According to a leaked Australian Defence Force document, Australia’s "first objective" in East Timor is for its military to "seek access" so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor’s decision-making". One of the two current presidential candidates is Taur Matan Ruak, an army general and Canberra’s man, who helped see off the troublesome Alkatiri.

One independent little country astride lucrative natural resources and strategic sea lanes is of great concern to the United States and its "deputy sheriff" in Canberra (George W Bush actually promoted Australia to full sheriff).--John Pilger, "East Timor - a lesson in why the poorest threaten the powerful," newstatesman.com, April 3, 2012]

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