I have just visited Timor Leste, 16 years after my last visit.
It was a study in contrasts.
I went to contribute to a conference at the National University of Timor-Lorosa'e, where one theme was the role of Western nations during the 1975 Indonesian invasion and 24 years of occupation.
In April 1999, the Indonesian military was still in control and, unbeknown to me, about to unleash a wave of unspeakable violence against the population. Three months earlier, Indonesian President Habibie had proclaimed that the Timorese people could choose whether or not to remain with Indonesia. Portugal and Indonesia were finalising terms and the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) was preparing to campaign.
The Liquica massacre took place two days after my arrival. Some 60 civilians who had taken shelter in the Catholic church were killed by the ferocious "Red and White" militia. Instead of relaxed meetings with community figures, I found myself visiting severely wounded victims in the Motael Clinic in Dili.
I came home to campaign against the crazy notion that the Indonesian security forces could be trusted to ensure the security of the referendum process. Sadly, the Government believed the violence was caused by "competing factions" and only changed tack when the country was in flames following the cataclysmic post-referendum violence of September 1999.
On my return visit, I strolled along the beautiful Dili beachfront and saw not soldiers but courting couples, hawkers offering sweet oranges and women performing traditional dances. Timor Leste's distinctive red, yellow and black flag, which once adorned New Zealand campaign badges, was everywhere.
This image of serenity is not the whole story: the country was forced to rebuild after the departing Indonesian military ravaged the country and forcibly displaced much of its population. The container ship anchored offshore came in loaded with cheap imported goods, but many bemoaned the lack of export production, beyond crafts and coffee growing. Oil boosts the Government's coffers, but Australia refuses to negotiate a fair maritime boundary while continuing to exploit oil fields that ought to belong to Timor.
In Liquica, 26km from Dili, a memorial garden honours the heroes of the independence struggle. Further on, 'Balibo Five' graffiti is daubed on the road embankments. Five western journalists, including New Zealander Gary Cunningham, were killed in October 1975 as they tried to tell the world about Indonesia's covert incursions into then Portuguese territory. Two important buildings have been restored to commemorate the events and the journalists. The Balibo Flag House and Community Learning Centre is funded by an Australian trust. Behind protective glass it still bears the Australian flag one of the journalists etched on its wall in a futile effort at self-preservation.
It is ironic that the Balibo Five are honoured here, while in their homelands governments do little, notwithstanding a 2007 Sydney inquest which determined they were killed in cold blood by Indonesian Special Forces. Successive New Zealand governments have opted to leave the initiative up to Australia.
Statues and gardens commemorate resistance heroes in Dili. There is a well-appointed Resistance Archive and Museum, and a Xanana Gusmao reading room. The Chega exhibition occupies several rooms and cells in the old prison at Balide. Graffiti from former inmates has been preserved while multimedia displays summarise the story told in the five-volume report of Timor's impressive Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. CAVR's careful forensic assessment concludes that there were up to 183,000 conflict-related deaths
Unfortunately, only minor players have faced sanctions while Indonesian officers charged before the UN backed tribunal a decade ago have gone on to new terror fields in West Papua, continue to travel the world freely and even stand for the highest political office.
In 2002, then Foreign Minister Phil Goff said New Zealand should share some responsibility for its failure to condemn the 1975 invasion and the subsequent suffering of the Timorese people. At present, however, it seems defence ties and a good relationship with Indonesia come ahead of historic justice.
• Maire Leadbeater is the former spokesperson for the Auckland East Timor Independence Committee and author of Negligent Neighbour; New Zealand's complicity in the invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste, Craig Potton, 2006.
'I know that is is important to improve food sources in East Timor, but the damage done to peoples health in the West through firms like Monsanto and other processing plants should also be taught. As a rule of thumb it is much better to stick to what you grow, farm or fish, rather than start making food that is produced in a factory. Many people in Britain are going back to growing there own food and there is a big movement against factory farming. Lidia Tindle - Tyneside East Timor Solidarity
(Reuters) - East Timor's president chose former health minister Rui Araujo to be the new prime minister of the poverty-stricken country, the government said on Tuesday.
Araujo replaces independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who stepped down last week to allow for a younger generation to lead.
Gusmao, 68, and his ruling CNRT party recommended that Araujo take the helm even though the New Zealand-trained doctor is from the opposition Fretilin party.
"The president of the republic accepted the proposal of CNRT, the most voted party at the last legislative elections, which nominated Dr Rui Maria Araujo for the post as prime minister," the government said in a statement.
Araujo is expected to be sworn in this week as East Timor's fifth prime minister since it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.
"Rui's appointment should transform Timorese politics by ushering in a new period of cross-party cooperation," said Cillian Nolan, deputy director of a Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
"The challenge will be to cultivate the same kind of authority and credibility as his predecessor."
Many believe Gusmao, who became prime minister in May 2007 after serving as the first post-independence president, will maintain influence in government. But it is not clear what role he might take.
East Timor has struggled to develop economically since independence. Despite gas production worth billions of dollars, around half of the country's population of 1.2 million lives in poverty, the World Bank says.
East Timor is trying to develop more of its natural resources to boost employment and government revenue.
It is in talks with Australia's Woodside Petroleum to resolve a decades-long row over the Greater Sunrise project, which remains undeveloped 40 years after the gas fields were discovered.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, after Portugal abruptly pulled out of a colony it had ruled for three centuries, and annexed the territory later that year, maintaining a heavy and at times brutal military presence for decades.
East Timor's president accepted the resignation of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as prime minister on Monday, paving the way for a major government overhaul and a new chapter in the nation's short history.
Gusmao, who has served as either president or premier since East Timor became independent in 2002 following a long struggle against Indonesian occupation, submitted his resignation last week.
The departure of the former guerrilla fighter deprives Asia's youngest nation of a unifying figure who has helped resolve numerous crises, but analysts say it is time for Gusmao to step aside to enable a transition to a new generation of leaders.
At a Cabinet meeting, President Taur Matan Ruak announced "that he accepted the request for resignation", said the government in a statement.
It said the president would now start the process of forming a new government, and "it is expected that the constitution of the new government will be concluded at the end of this week".
A successor for 68-year-old Gusmao has not yet been announced but the frontrunner is seen as former health minister Rui Araujo. Gusmao may remain in government but in a lesser role, observers predict.
Gusmao, who spent years living in the jungle during Indonesian occupation, had signalled over the past year that he would be stepping down. But he delayed the move repeatedly as he sought to ensure everything was in place for a smooth transition.
- Easing political tensions -
Analysts say the cabinet reshuffle is likely aimed at getting rid of several ministers from Gusmao's coalition who have been accused of corruption.
It is also expected that the opposition Fretilin party will be brought into government, a move aimed at easing the half-island nation's often fraught politics.
Gusmao last week urged people "not to panic" during the transition to a new government, and called on everyone to "contribute towards stability".
East Timor has suffered bouts of unrest in the past, although recent years have been largely peaceful, allowing UN peacekeepers finally to leave the country in 2012.
Gusmao led the military wing of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, which fought against Indonesian occupation. Before Indonesia invaded in 1975, Portugal had ruled East Timor for centuries.
He was captured by the Indonesians and imprisoned in Jakarta during the final years of the occupation, but kept up the independence struggle from behind bars.
After the Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-backed referendum in 1999, Gusmao returned to his homeland a hero and was elected the country's first president in 2002. He has been prime minister since 2007.
He is credited with resolving numerous crises in the chaotic early years of independence.
He urged reconciliation, persuading pro-Indonesian militiamen who had gone on a murderous rampage following the referendum to return home.
Gusmao also helped to keep a lid on communal tensions after a crisis in 2006, when soldiers sacked from the army launched a mutiny that sparked factional violence which left dozens dead and forced 150,000 into camps.
He remains hugely popular but has struggled to fulfil his pledges of improving livelihoods in the deeply poor country, and diversifying the economy away from oil and gas.
VETERAN East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao says he's pushing back plans to stand down as the fledgling nation's prime minister as his fledgling nation continues to dispute oil revenues with Australia.
GUSMAO told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday he'd intended to resign this September, but will now stay on until the first half of 2015, as East Timor grapples with disputes over oil revenues with Canberra and US energy giant ConocoPhillips.He said he remained committed to transferring leadership responsibilities to a younger generation, but declined to say who might succeed him. "If I suddenly leave without stabilising these issues it's like running away from your responsibility," Gusmao said ahead of his address on Thursday to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. The 68-year-old was a leader of East Timor's 24-year resistance against a brutal Indonesian military occupation that left more than 170,000 dead. He was elected the nation's first president after independence in 2002 and became prime minister in 2007. The half-island nation is struggling with high rates of poverty and meeting post-independence expectations, but Gusmao said he didn't believe there would be repeat of the unrest if the country's elite was unified. Ties with Australia have been strained by a legal dispute over a 2006 treaty that carves up revenue from oil and gas under the sea between the countries. "We are not desperate for more dollars, but it must be recognised that resources within our maritime borders are ours," Gusmao said. East Timor alleges Canberra spied in order to gain an advantage during the negotiations over the treaty. It has taken Australia to the United Nations' highest court in The Hague over the seizure of documents from a lawyer working for East Timor in the arbitration case. The two nations recently agreed to try to settle those differences outside the International Court of Justice, but Gusmao said if the negotiations did not yield a satisfactory response, East Timor would resume litigation. East Timor is also in arbitration proceedings with ConocoPhillips over what it alleges are unpaid tax revenues from the company's operations at a joint petroleum development area between Australia and East Timor. Source: theaustralian
Tom Allard National Affairs Editor