PACOM Chief Promises Solid U.S. Support for New Timor-Leste Democracy
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
DILI, Timor-Leste, Sept. 19, 2007 The commander of U.S. Pacific Command met here today with Timorese government and military leaders to praise strides they’ve made in building a new democracy, and he promised U.S. support to help them overcome challenges to that democracy.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, chats with Timorese Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao about progress made in promoting democracy and challenges still ahead during a Sept. 19, 2007, meeting in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating met with Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, and Brig. Gen .Taur Matan Ruak, the country’s chief of defense, during his first visit here since taking command of PACOM in March.
“I wanted to express to them our gratitude for the progress that is been made here for a new independent nation and to commit those resources we have that might help the president and prime minister and chief of defense move along in their important work,” Keating told reporters after meeting with Gusmao.
By all accounts, Timor-Leste has faced serious challenges since breaking free of a brutal, 24-year Indonesian rule in 1999. It formally declared statehood three years later and has been struggling to build its new government ever since.
Progress has been hindered by a wide range of factors: weak institutions, political infighting, poor education, extreme poverty and violence. Gusmao called the Timorese government “fragile” and its 700-member military ill-prepared to provide the protection it needs or to confront smuggling, trafficking and other problems.
Long-simmering tensions led to widespread violence in April 2006 that sent some 155,000 people fleeing their homes. An estimated 28,000 Timorese remain displaced, living in more than two dozen refugee camps dotting Dili, the capital.
An International Stabilization Force, made up of Australian and New Zealand troops, has been deployed to Timor-Leste since May 2006 at the government’s request. Australian Brigadier John Hutcheson, the joint task force commander, told Keating today the unit’s mission is to “maintain a secure, stable environment for the East Timorese to get on peacefully and resolve their differences.”
But more than a year after their arrival, Hutcheson told Keating that conditions in Timor-Leste “are still simmering” and that the country has “a long journey to go.”
Despite the ISF presence, as well as that of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, violence broke out again in August after no single candidate won a majority vote during national parliamentary elections, and Ramos-Horta appointed a coalition led by Gusmao to form a new government.
Today, Keating praised strides the Ramos-Horta and Gusmao government is making to advance democracy. “The challenges you have faced have been formidable,” he said. “But through what you have done, you have created an opportunity for your fellow citizens to live in an independent country.
“We in Pacific Command appreciate that commitment,” he said, promising additional U.S. assistance.
Keating said the United States recognizes the importance of sharing its resources with “the coalition of the willing” that shares the U.S. commitment to promoting democracy and creating stable conditions that discourage terrorist ambitions.
“We are intensely interested in cooperating. We are intensely interested in helping,” Keating told the Timorese leaders. “We are as committed as you are to supporting freedom and democracy.”
PACOM already provides support to the U.N. and ISF efforts in Timor-Leste through humanitarian assistance and training through the International Military Education and Training program. The command also provides strategic airlift to support Australia’s ISF deployments.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice provides police training in Timor-Leste through its International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.
Keating suggested that PACOM might be able to assist in additional areas, possibly through education, language training and additional humanitarian assistance.
But while promising as much help as possible, Keating conceded that there’s a limit to what PACOM can do. He expressed hope that the United States’ support for Timor-Leste will encourage other countries to step up to help.
Similarly, Keating said he hopes to move beyond bilateral U.S.-Timorese relations to multilateral relations that promote broader international cooperation.
Achieving Timor-Leste’s goals will be “a long struggle that won’t happen overnight,” Keating said, but he expressed “reason for optimism.”
Keating pointed to Ruak, who led the independence movement and now serves as the country’s defense chief, as an example of what’s possible in Timor-Leste. “It is a pleasure to meet someone who has contributed so successfully in such an important way to the independence of this country,” the admiral said.
“There is a price for democracy,” Ruak told Keating. “No democracy in the world (comes) without a price tag attached to it.”