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The Road to Timor is Paved With Good Intentions

By Joe Davies

Soldiers, rifles at the ready, are walking leafy streets and smiling at ragged children. Aid agencies, under heavily armed guard, are distributing food, tents and medicines. Refugees from the hills are trickling back into Dili, but there are not nearly as many as there should be. As the agencies wonder where everyone is, grisly tales emerge of crocodiles feasting on human remains, dumped in their territories from Indonesian army trucks. Television camera crews linger around burnt out buildings and charred skeletons. The world has arrived in Dili, too late to save too many East Timorese, but better late than never.

East Timor's survivors are beginning to wake from a nightmare that lasted nearly twenty four years while the world was determinedly looking elsewhere. But has the nightmare ended? There are ominous signs that the international community will show little more respect for the East Timorese than the Indonesians did.

There is the disturbing spectacle of Interfet, the International Force for East Timor, threatening Falintil guerrillas, East Timor's resistance fighters, with bloodshed if they refuse to disarm. These courageous men and women have fought alone with dignity and pride for twenty four years, a few hundred peasant farmers defending their country against an extremely hostile foreign invasion by the world's fourth largest military force. They have had to do it in the face of international indifference to their fate, without help of any kind whatsoever from the rest of the world.

Contrast that with the Indonesian military, which for the entire term of its brutal occupation of East Timor, has been armed, funded, trained and supported diplomatically by the same international community that is now playing the liberator in the territory. Just where does Interfet get the authority to order them to disarm? The question arises: whose country is this?

Now the World Bank, which provided crucial funding to Indonesia's military and business elites during the occupation of East Timor, has revealed it has its own designs on East Timor's economic future. In a chilling report from the Asian Wall Street Journal of October 4, reporter Michael Casey enthusiastically lays out the World Bank's plans for "a clique of Washington-based economists and development planners" to "build a macroeconomic infrastructure from scratch" on the ruins of the shattered East Timorese economy. Waxing uncharacteristically lyrical, he goes on to exult "...insulated from the domestic political constraints they typically confront elsewhere, they'll have what is perhaps a once-in-a-career opportunity to draft a policy blueprint that's entirely in line with the Bank's and the (International Monetary) Fund's fundamental free-market prescriptions".

At this point, it needs to be stated with some force that what the resistance has been fighting for all these years, while the World Bank was falling over itself to fund their enemy, is the principle of self determination. In other words, the right of the East Timorese people to decide and control their own destiny, including their economic destiny.

Now the World Bank has taken it upon itself to chart the economic future of East Timor - without consulting the East Timorese. Much is made of the need for the World Bank's policies to succeed. Bank director Klaus Rohland is quoted as saying "We don't have any excuses in this case - it's a new country and if we don't get things right, we cannot blame our predecessors or someone else's mistakes".

Do the East Timorese want a free market? Perhaps they do. The point is that no one at the World Bank seems to have bothered asking them. Do their voices constitute the "domestic political constraints" mentioned in Casey's article? Are the aspirations of the East Timorese, who have suffered so much at the hands of international financiers, now to be sacrificed on the altar of free-market economic ideology, simply so that some economists can prove that theirs is the best way to run a country? How is this different from the Indonesians thinking they knew best how to run East Timor?

It seems that East Timor is being invaded again, this time by a force of international do-gooders armed with the best of intentions, but just as blind to the real needs of East Timor's people as the last lot.

Someone needs to remind Interfet, the World Bank, the IMF and the international financial community in general that East Timor belongs to the East Timorese. That is what the long war with Indonesia was all about. Any interim administration set up there needs to be just that - interim, while the Timorese sort out their own structures and decide for themselves how they will be governed.

Those fighters in the jungles may need to keep a tight grip on their weapons. It is becoming more obvious by the day that their fight to be free is not yet over.


ENDS

Author Note: Joe Davies works for CORSO and is a spokesperson for the East Timor Independence Campaign, Otautahi. This piece was first published in the Christchurch Press of 9/10/99.

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