Statement by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) on the Current Violence in Timor-Leste
May 27, 2006 - We have watched the unfolding situation in Timor-Leste this past week with deep concern. We do not
believe that events had to escalate to this point. Like others, we do not have complete information about the current
situation and its causes. Below are our initial reflections:
The intervention by foreign military and police forces is a sad event for Timor-Leste, whose hard-won political
independence has had to be laid aside – we hope for only a short time – because leaders and state institutions have been
unable to manage certain violent elements of the population and security forces.
Now that foreign forces are being deployed -- at the request of Timor-Leste's government, with the stated support of
rebel leaders, and the welcome by most of a terrified population -- we hope that they serve their intended purpose in
quelling the violence and allowing negotiations and a peaceful resolution, as well as the identification and arrest of
those who have committed crimes.
Outside intervention is a temporary solution at best. Timor-Leste must find ways, with respectful support from the
international community, to deal with problems in a manner that will not require troops.
Statements by Australian government leaders that providing security assistance entitles them to influence over
Timor-Leste’s government are undemocratic, paternalistic, and unhelpful. Who governs Timor-Leste is a decision to be
made by its people within its constitution.
Key countries -- including those now sending troops and police -- must examine their roles in relation to the new
nation, including the training provided to Timor-Leste’s security forces. Australia bears special responsibility for
Timor’s underdevelopment by refusing to return revenues, totaling billions of dollars, from the disputed petroleum
fields in the Timor Sea, including Laminaria-Corallina, and by bullying Timor-Leste into forsaking revenues that should
rightfully belong to it under current international law and practice. As in 1999, we must not forget that the Australian
government’s actions have contributed to the situations their peacekeepers have now been sent to correct. Australia
should not view its current assistance to Timor-Leste as a favor, to be repaid, but instead as a partial repayment for
the debt Australia owes the Timorese people for its help during WW II and for Australia's deep complicity in Indonesia's
invasion and occupation.
Independent Timor-Leste had a violent birth. The legacy of Indonesian occupation left the people of the new nation
deeply traumatized and impoverished, without governmental institutions and experience. Those who orchestrated,
implemented and aided the illegal occupation have never been held accountable.
We wonder if international and Timorese failures to ensure justice have led some in Timor-Leste to believe that their
own use of violence would be met with similar impunity. As described in the recent report of Timor-Leste's Commission
for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), several countries - among them U.S., U.K., and Australia - bear a
special responsibility to ensure justice and accountability due to their action and inaction from 1975 on. Reparations,
as called for by the CAVR, would help alleviate the poverty and joblessness that have fueled some of the unrest.
It must not be forgotten that despite its many problems, the transition from occupation to UN administration to
independence has been relatively peaceful, especially when compared to the experiences of many other post-colonial
countries. We hope that the recent violence -- which appears to have complex causes -- proves to be an exception.
We urge the key political, security force and other actors in the current crisis to evaluate their own actions and
recommit themselves to the spirit of national unity and public service, which so ably provided the foundation for the
independence movement. Timor-Leste needs to examine whether or not it wants a military and, if so, what is its purpose.
In addition to addressing the past, the CAVR report provides useful recommendations for implementing rule of law and
improving justice and accountability in independent Timor-Leste.
We urge the international community and the UN, especially the Security Council, to work with Timor-Leste to complete
the nation-building and development tasks to which they have already committed. If Timor-Leste is to become the success
story it has already been portrayed as, further international support is necessary. However, this support must be given
in an honest spirit that supports real self-determination and empowers the Timorese people to take full charge of their
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international
tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 and for restrictions on U.S.
military assistance to Indonesia until there is genuine reform of its security forces. For additional background, see www.etan.org.