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Two prominent Mozambican journalists, in the latest edition of the independent weekly "Savana", have written in defence of embattled East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who has been subjected to all manner of slander and insult from the right wing Australian media and from the Catholic Church. During the current crisis, Alkatiri has been literally demonised, with some posters from his Catholic opponents declaring "Alkatiri is a communist and a devil".
But many Mozambican journalists have a very different picture of Alkatiri. For in exile he lived in Maputo, where he played a key role in the attempts to mobilise international solidarity against the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. In the dark days of the late 1970s and the 1980s, it was not Australia, and not even the former colonial power, Portugal, that kept the Timorese issue alive in international fora – that task fell on the shoulders of Mozambique and Angola.
During those long years Mozambican journalists and other intellectuals came to know and admire Alkatiri, and have no time for absurd claims that he is "a devil".
In his "Savana" column, Fernando Lima notes that Alkatiri has been subjected to the rage of the Catholic church since 2002.
Among the causes for this were the Timorese government's attempt to separate church and state – but also Catholic hostility to a politician of moslem descent (though Alkatiri has never defined himself in terms of religion). The fact remains that Alkatiri is popular – particularly in the ranks of the movement that fought for Timorese independence and is now the country's ruling party, Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor). At the recent Fretilin congress, Alkatiri was easily re- elected as the party's leader: his sole opponent dropped out of the race before the final vote. Lima believes it was no coincidence that the unrest in Timor erupted immediately after the Congress – because "the wrong man won".
Some of the more ridiculous columns in the Australian press claim that Alkatiri was indoctrinated by "communists" in his years of exile. But by the time Alkatiri left, Mozambique had long since jettisoned marxism as its official ideology. Lima argues that Alkatiri learnt quite a different lesson in Maputo. He had watched the growth of corruption in Mozambique in the 1990s, and was determined that the same should not happen in Timor.
Alkatiri, Lima points out, is the architect of petroleum legislation that has won international praise – but which certain sectors, coveting the oil under the Timor Sea, do not like. This position is shared by the second column, written by Joao Machado da Graca, who believes that supposed ethnic divisions in East Timor, about which there has been so much chatter, is secondary to the issue of Timor's potential oil wealth.
Machado da Graca notes that the Australian government is no supporter of Alkatiri – for Alkatiri fought long and hard over the delimitation of East Timor's maritime border with Australia, an issue of key importance given the "millions of barrels of oil waiting to be extracted" under the seabed.
"The government of Timor is not corrupt and things were not resolved in favour of Australia through a few million dollars deposited in Swiss banks as the Australians may have imagined", wrote Machado da Graca.
The sequence of events last week was most interesting.
Machado da Graca notes that on Monday it became publicly known that no Australian company had won the oil exploration tenders launched by the Timorese government. On Tuesday, the violence in the Timorese capital, Dili, worsened dramatically. On Wednesday Australian troops arrived in Dili.
As for the Timorese "rebels", these are mutineers led by a man who played no role in the Timorese struggle against Indonesian occupation. Instead he spent the whole period living comfortably in Australia. When Timorese independence was retired he rose to a senior position thanks to Australian advisers who were then with the United Nations force.
In the background are the Americans, who seem to have thrown their lot in with the Catholic church. Machado da Graca notes the presence of the US ambassador at the Catholic church demonstration against the Timorese government's decision to end compulsory teaching of the catholic religion in state schools.
One might have expected the US embassy to applaud this: after all, the Alkatiri government was merely following the separation of church and state that was first declared in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Machado da Graca warns that "after a short period of independence, a prolonged period of Australian tutelage, with American support, on the pretext of maintaining law and order, could be disastrous. Mainly because it would take away from Timor the strength to negotiate independently its main wealth, the oil under its territorial waters".
The article concludes with a call for solidarity "with the legitimate government of East Timor, led by Mari Alkatiri, in this difficult moment".
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