Hopes dim for political peace in E Timor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2007, 12:00am

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has urged that whichever party wins tomorrow's parliamentary elections should form a unity government to heal divisions in the country, which recently verged on the brink of civil war.

But the Nobel laureate's wish seems to be in vain as the two main parties keep blaming each other for last year's chaos and refuse even to contemplate working together under the current leadership.

'There is nothing that CNRT can offer us. Xanana and his men are not competent to govern,' said Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin secretary-general, referring to former president Xanana Gusmao and his party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor.

Fretilin and CNRT are favourites to establish the new 65-member parliament.

The Democratic Party is viewed as a strong outsider.

'Xanana is dishonest. He was always the president of the opposition, against Fretilin. And now, during the campaign, CNRT is acting as if it is above the law,' said Mr Alkatiri, listing various alleged CNRT transgressions.

'The crisis was Xanana's fault. It was his March 23 [2006] speech that divided the country.'

Mr Alkatiri was forced to step down as prime minister one year ago after a split within the army escalated into a national crisis.

In the controversial speech, Mr Gusmao attacked Mr Alkatiri's decision to approve the dismissal of roughly 600 soldiers who had gone on strike.

The soldiers were from western districts of the country. They were complaining of discrimination by officers from the east.

Mr Gusmao called the dismissals 'incorrect and unjust' but agreed there was discrimination in the army. Some observers noted that Mr Gusmao's speech placed him, symbolically, at the helm of the disenfranchised soldiers and helped to keep them under control.

But others said his words led to more violence, with eastern and western civilians settling old scores, under the excuse provided by the divisions within the army.

More than 130 people have been killed since then, despite the presence of foreign peacekeeping troops.

Dionisio Babo Soares, CNRT secretary-general, rebutted Mr Alkatiri's attack and instead blamed Fretilin for the crisis, which he attributed to a 'swell of unhappiness at the grass-roots level caused by Fretilin's negligence in dealing with the country's many problems'. Fretilin controls 55 seats in the 88-member parliament.

'This is a special society. For example, Fretilin should have paid attention to the veterans of the war, who lost the opportunity to have a proper education and a good salary,' said Mr Soares, adding poverty, education and the health system to the areas that Fretilin allegedly neglected nationwide.

'Instead they paid attention to themselves, passing a pension law that even looks after former prime ministers.'

CNRT has strongly condemned the just-passed Amnesty Law, as well, which seems to offer a way out for most of last year's crimes.

Even so, Mr Soares did not reject the possibility of working with Fretilin in government.

'We would consider it, if there were substantial changes within Fretilin,' he said, hinting at a change in the current leadership.

Mr Alkatiri has said he will not seek to lead the next government.