John Howard has sent about 200 soldiers to the East Timor capital of Dili, this week, supposedly to secure the international airport. Howard told Parliament the soldiers would be accompanied by Black Hawk helicopters and a C-130 Hercules aircraft. Another 1300 troops will be on the ground within days as part of a taskforce named Operation Astute.
Howard said the action was in Australia’s national interest because “weak and fragile states” in the neighbourhood could quickly become ‘Australia’s problems’.
The East Timorese government is currently facing a rebellion by nearly half of the East Timorese army. Many soldiers have been on strike to protest at poor pay and conditions and the brutality of military commanders.
In late April, the soldiers staged a peaceful demonstration in Dili, where they were joined by four thousand civilians. On the orders of Prime Minister Alkatiri, the police opened fire on the protesters, killing at least five. It is reported that since the demonstration the police have killed many more opponents of the Alkatiri regime.
The Alkatiri regime has been a good friend of Howard’s and the Australian ruling class. In recent years Alkatiri helped to deliver a series of deals that has given Australia control of the oil and gas reserves under the Timor Strait.
Workers in Australia have more in common with the struggling poor masses of East Timor than they have in common with either Howard or Alkatiri. Both governments are keen to keep workers in chains. The labour movement in Australia must see Howard’s latest adventure for what it is – Howard attempting to play the role of a mini-imperialist power in the region, defending the interests of big business.