The crisis in East Timor is not just between government and rebel troops, but also between President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
President Gusmao had to step in to assume power in a hope that his popularity could calm the situation, knowing full well that rebel troops are against the PM. But Alkatiri didn’t want to submit to his authority.
Observers said Gusmao’s assumption of emergency powers without declaring a formal state of emergency (I thought he had?) was seen as isolating Alkatiri, whose handling of the affair has been utterly pathetic and heavily criticised in East Timor and abroad.
Today, Alkatiri insisted both men will share that power. He told Aussie media that they had misinterpreted Gusmao's statement from Portuguese into English:
"You are wrong, completely wrong, he is not taking control. The defence and security is still part of the government, and I am the head of the government. Now, together we are going to work together to stabilise the country."
Constitutionally Alkatiri as the PM indeed has executive powers but President Gusmao with the backing of the State Council has taken over power from Alkatiri's government for 30 days.
Brigadier Michael Slater, the head of Australia's forces in East Timor said that President Xanana Gusmao has greater authority on matters of security than the Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri
He stated: "I work in conjunction with both of them, the President is the supreme commander and he is doing that job in conjunction with a number of people including the Prime Minister."
But he hastened to add that neither man has any authority over Australian forces. "They don't have any authority over the international forces. They only have that authority over the Timorese police and army."
But what President Gusmao has done was not enough to satisfy the rebel troops. Major Alfredo Reinado, the rebel leader, told AFP by mobile phone that Gusmao taking over was not good enough because it did not involve sacking the prime minister. According to him, Gusmao made a serious mistake. He said:
"This is not a solution, he [Alkatiri] is a criminal and should not be allow to stay as prime minister. That is the mistake that the president has made."
In the meanwhile, call it what you will – coincidence or staged raid – the office of the East Timorese attorney-general has been broken into by 'rioters', not for valuables but for certain files pertaining to Indonesian military’s crimes against humanity when the nation was part of Indonesia.
15% of the files have disappeared. By some strange quirk of ‘coincidence’ those 15% were files on very senior Indonesian military officers. The ability to prosecute them has plummeted to zero. What a fortuitous turn of events for those alleged criminals.
Related: East Timor - President Gusmao takes over