Friday March 16th 2007, 6:52 pm
Filed under: East Timor Ennui
Timor is a tiny little country on a tiny little island east of Indonesia, north of Australia. It’s also, officially, the poorest country in the world as far as per capita purchasing power goes. This former Portugese colony was snapped up by invading Indonesian troops in 1975 and liberated by rebels in 1999 after years of fighting that killed as many as 100,000 people. In the wake of the liberation, 2,500 Australian-led peacekeepers and a small U.N. police force set up shop to help facilitate the country’s transition to self rule, formally announced in 2002. It’s been a rocky road, ZNet reports:
The dream of independence realized in 2002 has turned into a nightmare. In 2006, only four years after it gained independence, violent clashes erupted yet again on the streets of Dili, East Timor’s capital. The troubles began in February with a small-scale mutiny in the military over pay and promotion grievances. That ignited a simmering feud between President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. After the prime minister dismissed the mutineers, violence flared between military units and subsequently involved the police. The clashes were linked to the political conflict at the top, but were also driven by ethno-linguistic tensions between easterners and westerners that many observers attribute to political machinations. By June, roaming gangs had torched and looted their way around most of Dili and driven many easterners out of their homes into the refugee camps where many still remain.
In an effort to enforce some peace and quiet in advance of April’s presidential election. Aussie troops raided a town on March 4 looking for former rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado and shot dead five people. Gang warfare has killed dozens in recent weeks. But things could be worse, says presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta. “I think we avoided a civil war.”
I’m headed to Timor in a couple weeks to see for myself. Stay tuned.