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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Bitter Flowers, Sweet Flowers: East Timor, Indonesia, and the World Community
Richard Tanter, Mark Selden and Stephen R. Shalom (eds.)

Lanham, MD and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001
304pp. Hb.: $75.00; ISBN 0-7425-0967-2. Pb.: $24.95; ISBN 0-7425-0968-0.

This volume of essays illustrates the dynamics of the long Timorese struggle for independence, first from Portugal and then from the brutal Indonesian occupation. A historical analysis of the roles played by the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) and the Catholic Church, as well as students and the youth is aptly supported by four eye witness accounts of the 1999 ballot and the violence that followed the overwhelming vote for independence. Included in the text are poems from East Timorese poets and photos depicting the pains of the long struggle.

The overwhelming message of the different essays pertains to the role of the international community ? particularly the United States ? in sidestepping claims of international law and human rights in the face of geopolitics. ?The struggle for East Timor, both during and after the Cold War, provides a litmus test for issues of international responsibility, posing questions of double standards in unusually clear-cut form.? (p. xvi).

Up to the 1990s, East Timor represented a ?speed bump? in the race to secure Jakarta as a strategic partner in South Asia. However, this bump became an insurmountable obstacle in the post-Cold War era. Today East Timor is firmly on the road to independence and the book concludes with outlining the future challenges facing the most recent state, ?including economic development, security, linguistic and ethnic differences, and social change while analyzing the possible responses of the relevant parties from the resistance forces to the Indonesian government, the United States, and the United Nations.? (p. xvii). As one of the concluding essays point out, in meeting these challenges the East Timorese state will have to focus on specific issues. These are policing and demilitarisation, including disarming the militias and transforming them and their opposition, the Falintil forces, into an effective security force. Furthermore, in its development into a state, East Timor requires justice and reconciliation, a language policy, gender representivity and a system of law that will address crucial questions relating to ownership of rights relating to land and oil exploration as well as the role of returning militias and refugees.

Most of the essays were written during the post ballot violence by authors with intimate knowledge of contemporary Indonesian and East Timorese politics, military perspectives, and economics. However, it is left for the reader to place the prospects for a prosperous East Timor into the contemporary setting where the new state is compelled to cope with Indonesian enmity against it and the international politics of courting the largest Islamic state in the era of fighting terrorism.

Frankie Jenkins, Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
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