Like it or not.. when you say you’re Australian to a Dili local, the response is often a friendly – ‘Ahhh .. Kangaroo Country’. So when Governor-General Quentin Bryce delivered three corrugated iron sculptured kangaroos for East Timor’s Presidential Palace garden, it seemed the ideal gift.
Questions to President Jose Ramos-Horta were banned during the stage-managed picture opportunity alongside Ms Bryce. Normally one keen to wear out batteries in a radio microphone, the President has been careful not to get into a stoush over his decision to oppose an International Justice Commission into human rights crimes committed during Indonesian occupation and the violence which followed the 1999 Independence vote.
Jose Ramos-Horta believes the past is the past and building a positive relationship with Indonesia is now more important. At the official ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of the Independence vote, switching between Portuguese and English – the President was keen to make his position clear: (ENGLISH) “.. there will be no criminal inquiry into past human rights abuses”. There is no questioning of Mr Ramos-Horta’s sacrifices for East Timor – three brother’s and a sister murdered by Indonesian backed forces and an attempt on his own life, but his no justice inquiry is at odds with some Timorese.
Displaying that Independence doesn’t mean freedom – less than three hours after the President’s Official speech a protest outside Dili’s main hotel, the Hotel Timor by two dozen people opposed to the President’s ‘no’ decision was swiftly broken up by truckloads of ‘Special Police’. Call ‘Unit Taskforce’ .. 20 officers torn up banners reading ‘No Impunity For Timor War Crimes – Justice Now’ and took away three ringleaders.
As we drove back to out hotel with the video footage of the police action, a protester said: ‘He .. (President) is betraying the mothers of East Timor’.
With unemployment as high as 70 percent across East Timor and most living on less than 50 cents a day – job building infrastructure projects are the obvious way to pull the population out of poverty.
But, the decision not to pursue prosecutions against people who committed atrocities during the 24-year fight for freedom, threatens to undermine the leaps in security since the 2006 gang violence, death of Alfredo Reinaldo and assassination attempt on Jose Ramos-Horta.
In a sign the President has won the first round in this fight, it was the Indonesian pop star Kris Dyanti who headlined the outdoor concert celebrating 10 years since the Independence vote. It odd choice considering the past, but maybe not as silly as three kangaroos in Presidential Palace garden.