South Sudan gains its independence today – with many more dark clouds than East Timor had at the time. Troubling reports of fighting and of mass displacements in the border regions.
East Timor’s struggle against an invading force was quite different that South Sudan’s. In 1998, a referendum (and a half-hearted ceasefire) was brokered. 1999 was the year the referendum, the build-up and the bloody aftermath and mass displacement of the East Timorese population.
After a horrendous scorched earth campaign which cost many lives, transferred much wealth to Indonesia, and seriously disrupted the territory, East Timorese had over 2 years of UN administration before they formally declared independence (for a second time).
I cannot help but see events in South Sudan as a sort of “pile-up” of Timor’s 1999 and 2002.
Imagine the referendum, the scorched earth, and independence all in short order. Bashir in Juba – it’s like imagining a hypothetical still-president Suharto rocking up in Dili in December 1999 for an independence party, when a huge part of the population was still in West Timor or internally displaced.
Collapse three years into one.
For East Timorese and Timor watchers, this has real meaning.
As much as we may have been impatient, as much as we may have questioned the UN’s administration at the time, there is really something to be said for taking time.
In January, I pleaded with Timorese people to write letters to Juba, but still have yet to see one. I was pleasantly surprised by this Time magazine opinion piece this week, by a malae, entitled “Three things Nation #193 Can Learn from #191″. There is still time – any Timorese takers?