Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
E Timor tensions 'mostly confined to Dili' -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

E Timor tensions 'mostly confined to Dili'

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, as we said earlier Major General Mike Smith was deputy commander of the
Australian-led UN peacekeeping force in East Timor for two years before becoming CEO of the aid
organisation Austcare. He's currently in East Timor in that capacity, assessing the humanitarian
situation. And he joins us now from Dili. Mike Smith, thanks for being there.

MAJOR GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET), AUSTCARE CEO: Thank you, Tony.

TONY JONES: I know you've been up in the hills today. We haven't heard a lot about what's happening
outside Dili. Can you give us your assessment of what you saw?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): My assessment is it's pretty quiet in the hills, in all the
districts, in fact. This is very much a Dili-centric problem. I'm going out again, I'm going down
to the border tomorrow because we've got projects on down there. Peace-building projects, education
projects, agricultural projects which are critical for the people of Timor. So I'm heading off down
there tomorrow.

TONY JONES: So you're saying effectively the tensions we're seeing in the capital are not reflected
out in the bush, as it were?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Well, certainly the reading I'm getting on it, Tony, is that that
is the case. It's very Dili-centric and you know, comments about civil war and genocide and ethnic
cleansing - all of those sorts of comments I don't think are appropriate to East Timor today.

TONY JONES: Your main office, of course, is in the Dili suburb of Comoro. There have been quite a
deal of violence and action around there. You must have seen a lot of what's going on in Dili at
least up close?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Yes, up close and personal actually. We seem to take in a lot of
stray people for sanctuary. One of our mandates is protection and we've been protecting on the
spot, actually. So it's been interesting times but I must say the woman who owns the house is
absolutely inspirational and she talks to the people and I tend to go out there with her and
convince them that we don't take sides in this. We're not political and that's what this is
basically all about. It's political. We're just here to help the people of East Timor and so far,
although some houses around us have gone up in smoke, ours seems to have been respected, touch
wood.

TONY JONES: We have seen and we're constantly seeing images of gang violence and houses burning in
the capital. Do you understand why it was that the Australian military and indeed the political
leadership of this country, appeared to be unprepared for this when they sent the troops in in the
first place?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): I think that this sort of operation is not an easy operation for
any military force to do and some of us for some time have been saying that this type of operation
is the future for the Australian Defence Force and has to be mainstreamed and ADF forces whether
they like it or not, are going to be doing more of this in the future in the arc of instability
that's to our north. So we'd better get used to it.

TONY JONES: And from what you're saying the Australian military needs to get used to this for quite
a long time in East Timor?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Well, I think that there will be a transition from a
military-strong component, increasingly to a police component and that will be good. But what needs
to happen immediately - and I might say that I've been observing the Australian Defence Force and
the Kiwis and the excellent Malaysian forces I've seen - and I must say that without their presence
I think Dili now would almost be destroyed. And I'd like to pay compliments to the commander of
this force, Brigadier Mick Slater. I think they come no better. He's doing all he can and so are
the troops in a very difficult situation. The real lessons, which have been relearned is, if we're
going to put soldiers into this sort of situation then they have to be trained and they
particularly need to understand civil military coordination and cooperation and to practice it more
so than they have in the past.

TONY JONES: Do you think the mix is shortly going to be rife with more police sent in? And do you
have any sense at all as to how many police you would actually need to control the streets there,
given the level the violence that we're seeing day after day?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Tony, it's going to take a long time, because you'll recall that
the UN did set up a police force but it was not very successful and really, it's going back to
scratch or square one now and building, rebuilding a police force from the beginning. It will take
time. When people talk about, "We want riot police," and all the rest of it, you certainly do need
some of that, and I know the Portuguese have arrived. But more importantly, you need good community
policing. In the short-term before that, what has to happen now is that the international
peacekeeping force that's here needs to do a lot more with the civil-based organisations.
Organisations like Austcare, and working closely with the UN and the East Timorese Government - and
they are starting to do this. But there's a lot, a lot more learning to go into that process. I'd
like to see places like Austcare as safe houses in communities where we had particular or specific
communications so that if something did arise we could quickly call somebody in. We don't have that
yet, so we have to call and wait and hope if something crops up. So we need to get the people out
of the internally displaced person's camps. 70,000 of them in Dili and they won't leave there until
they really feel that they have security and that will only come about if the ADF and the civil
community work together. And that's one of the reasons why Austcare is working so hard, to try and
get funding to put protection officers, civil protection officers - these aren't people with guns
and rifles - these are civil protection officers working closely with the UN agencies to make sure
that people can integrate back into society here and this nation can go forward. This is the
poorest nation in Asia.

TONY JONES: I'll come on to that in a moment. But I'd just like to reflect just for a moment on
what you've just said. Because it seems to us that the Reverend Tim Costello from World Vision was
saying very similar things right at the very beginning when the Australian troops went in there. So
it's hard for us to understand now why the military is not working more closely with aid
organisations such as your own after what was said at the beginning. Do you understand why?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Let me just say that they are working closely. I've had personal
discussions with a number of military people and I might say, that's not a reflection on my
previous military career. I rang a number, asked could I see somebody and I did. I think they've
been outstanding in what they've been doing. But they are underresourced and underequipped to do
this sort of operation. ADF, the Australian Defence Force, is fundamentally a war-fighting
organisation. It is not a peace enforcement, peacekeeping. They've always done it in addition to
war fighting and what I'm saying is you can't do it in addition anymore, you've got to mainstream
it.

TONY JONES: Let me just ask you this, and I want to go back to something you said in the past. You
actually said in the past that Australian intelligence failed to anticipate what happened in, or
what was going to happen in 1999. Are we seeing now the results of another intelligence failure?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): Well, just let me first say there is no similarity between 1999 and
this particular issue here. We are now talking about totally an internal problem within East Timor,
as best as I can see. Did the Australian Government - was there a failure of intelligence? I don't
know, because I'm not in the Australian Government anymore. I'm interested in humanitarian relief
operations and that's how I spend my days now.

TONY JONES: OK, fair enough. Can you explain, though, why things have changed so dramatically from
the time when you were there for those two years, 2000 to 2002? What's happened to turn this
situation around so that we have virtually on our doorstep now a failed State?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): I think the problem is mainly political and it is mainly focussed
on Dili. But underlying all of that is a huge problem of poverty. And a population just over a
million of which more than 50% is under the age of 18. Most unemployed people out in the
countryside are finding it difficult to put food on their tables. We need to be doing grassroots
poverty alleviation programs. And we need to up the ante to do it. And please Australia, dig deep,
because this country East Timor, needs it.

TONY JONES: Yes, some people are actually arguing that what is now needed in East Timor is
something like a mini-marshal plan where huge international effort is put into rebuilding the
State, its institutions and its economy from the ground up. Is that the way you see things?

MAJOR-GENERAL MIKE SMITH (RET): I certainly see that there has to be security and development go
closely together and I believe that the East Timor Government is capable of taking a lead in that.
But it needs assistance, coordinated assistance from the United Nations - and I certainly hope an
up-gunned - that's the wrong phrase - a sort of an increased and more capable UN mission is put
here. I certainly hope that occurs. That's required and the ADF or the security forces that are
here all have to work in tandem. But the East Timorese Government needs to maintain the lead. And I
think it's do-able. We're not talking about a country that cannot get out of this situation. It
can, but it needs to be planned and as well as starting at the top end of town in terms of
governance, we really have to go to the bottom end. We have to go down to the rural poor. We have
to have employment schemes. We have to really think it through and we've got to fix up the lines of
communication. There is a mammoth effort required here, but the fact is it's do-able and we can
have a very secure and stable country to Australia's north. It's in the interests of the East
Timorese for this to happen. It's certainly in the interests of Australia for this to happen and
it's in the interests of Indonesia and the rest of the world as well.

TONY JONES: OK Mike Smith, I'm sure a lot of people have heard that appeal pretty clearly. We thank
you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us tonight.