Education International
Education International

EI monitors situation in Timor-Leste

published 2 June 2006 updated 2 June 2006

Education International is monitoring the situation in Timor-Leste as the fledgling country plunged into chaos since the beginning of the unrest on 24 April. EI is concerned about the extent the unrest has affected teachers and children.

Hundreds of UN employees evacuated from Timor-Leste as rival gangs roamed the streets of the capital, Dili, torching homes and battling with machetes in defiance of foreign peacekeepers sent to quell violence that is consuming the country. Thousands of residents also fled the capital of Dili. Nearly 30,000 were seeking refuge in churches, schools, embassies and the airport, leaving much of the capital city deserted. The week-long violence has killed at least 27 people and wounding over 100 others.

At a food distribution center, Australian troops struggled to maintain order as thousands of residents tussled with each other to get bags of rice.

The unrest was triggered by the March 2006 firing by Prime Minister Mari Alkatari of 600 disgruntled soldiers - nearly half of the 1400-member army. The fired troops threatened to wage guerilla warfare if they were not reinstated and last week they ambushed soldiers in the capital, sparking fierce street battles. Most of the dismissed soldiers came from the country’s west, while the military leadership came from the east, highlighting the nation’s divisions along geographical lines.

The fighting has spread to the general population with people from the west perceived as being supportive of Indonesia during Timor-Leste’s bloody break for independence from that country in 1999. Those from the east are seen supporting Timor-Leste’s struggle to end 24 years of Indonesia’s iron-fisted rule.

Looters have stolen up to 15% of Timor-Leste’s entire criminal archive, including all top cases involving massacres after the country’s vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999, the Attorney General said yesterday. The missing files include ones on former General Wiranto, Indonesia’s armed forces chief at the time of massacres, who was indicted by United Nations-backed prosecutors for rights abuses in Timor-Leste.

The fragile Timorese government appealed for outside help last week. About 2,000 Australian troops have been sent to quell the violence, joined by military personnel from Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand.

On 30 May, President Xanana Gusmao, a former guerilla leader and independence hero, announced he is assuming "sole responsibility" for national security and defense. It followed two days of wrangling with Prime Minister Mari Alkatari, who faces calls for his resignation but is a shrewd negotiator and retains clout as the leader of the ruling party. Gusmao, in contrast, has partly ceremonial role but inspires adulation for his record in the fight against Indonesia’s occupation of his homeland. To some extent he had retained affection, by staying out of daily politics, preferring a loftier role as symbol of new nationhood.

EI is currently trying to establish the extent to which the unrest has affected teachers and children, as well as if there have been any damages to schools.