HONOLULU (KHNL) - The latest round of violence and unrest in East Timor should come as no surprise, according to East Timor legal expert David Cohen, director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center and Sidney and Margaret Ancker Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley.
"Law and order have been precarious since April 2006 and the Army 'mutiny'," says Cohen, who also directs the East-West Center's Asian International Justice Initiative. He adds, "While the degree of violence since then has ebbed and flowed considerably, it has really not ceased."
"The most recent outbreak seems to arise," according to Cohen, "from a double miscalculation by the Timorese government." Underestimating the reaction against using Australian forces to carry out this week's raid against Maj. Alfredo Reinado and his armed followers "and the consequences of having Timorese killed by them in the process," was one of the major miscalculations, according to Cohen.
Reinado has been accused by the Dili government of, among other things, carrying out raids on police stations to secure weapons. Reinado, for his part, disputes the charges and has maintained the weapons were given to him by police officers and that some of those same officers have joined his group.
Cohen says the government in Dili also greatly underestimated the amount of popular support for Reinado, "who has positioned himself as a voice crying out against corruption, the indifference of the ruling Portuguese speaking elites, and gross inequities and incompetence in the legal system."
He is not optimistic. "I personally think that this kind of violence will not end until the government demonstrates through its action, and not just its rhetoric, its commitment to the rule of law, genuine democratic government, and social justice." He adds, "None of these, in my view, are on the horizon."