First nation of new century born

THE world congratulated East Timor this week when, after a history of colonial rule and foreign occupation, it celebrated its status as the world’s newest nation under the leadership of head of state Xanana Gusmao.

There were even cheers for Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was praised for her planned participation earlier in the week by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, the arrival of several Indonesian warships off the East Timorese capital of Dili did cause some anxious hours.

One of the first acts of the new nation, which will struggle to build infrastructure and establish services, was the signing of a treaty with Australia for the sharing of oil and gas royalties. The Timor Gap Treaty delivers 90 per cent of the royalties from the Joint Petroleum Development Area, but none of this will be forthcoming for some time and seabed boundaries remain in contention.

Week of farewells

WHILE companies, politicians, voters and organisations continued to dissect and debate the State Budget, this past week will most likely be remembered for the passing of a local sportsman and businessman, a defence service veteran, and a former politician. Meanwhile, fond tributes continued to pour in for respected entertainer Ruth Cracknell. Born and educated in Fremantle, Warren Jones, leader of the 1983 Bond syndicate’s successful America’s Cup challenge, delivered the event to his own home town. Mr Jones remained a keen sailor until his death at the age of 65, from the effects of a stroke suffered while on board his cabin cruiser Black Swan. He is remembered not only as an expert yachtsman, but also for his intelligence, wisdom, success as a businessman and his efforts in getting Australia II to Cowes for the America’s Cup Jubilee last year. Tributes also flowed for another yachtsman, 103-year-old Alec Campbell, Australia’s last Gallipoli veteran, who died in a Hobart nursing home. World War I, for which he enlisted as a 16-year-old, was just one small part of his life, however. Mr Campbell was discharged from the army early, due to ill health. He trained as a builder, subsequently became a public servant, married twice, completed an economics degree in his sixth decade, and sailed in six Sydney-Hobart yacht races. Prime Minister John Howard has shortened a visit to China, to attend Mr Campbell’s funeral at the end of the week. Much has been written, and indeed little may be left to be said about the life of former Australian Prime Minister Sir John Gorton. He liked a drink, the company of women and was said to be quite unwilling to relinquish his opinions in the face of contradictory information. Sir John’s first major announcement after becoming Prime Minister in 1968 following the disappearance of the previous Prime Minister Harold Holt, created a welcome end to the dispatch of Australian troops to Vietnam.

Dalai Lama shun

WHILE not quite on the same level as a Kostya Tszyu bout, there was plenty of verbal jousting this week over Prime Minister John Howard’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama. With a three-day visit to China also this week – to launch China’s role in the Rio Tinto HISmelt steel joint venture, and ahead of a Chinese decision that could award a long-term liquefied natural gas supply contract to the North West Shelf venture – the Government’s decision to not recognise the Dalai Lama’s visit was seen as an attempt keep Mr Howard’s Chinese hosts onside.

Australian troops come under fire

AUSTRALIAN troops in Afghanistan have come under heavy fire, not only from desert and mountain foes. The Australians reportedly fought a five-hour battle, before calling for support from US gunships but reports in the British media suggested the only fire received was from a startled wedding party. Apparently it is customary for Aghanistani wedding parties to fire large amounts of ordnance into the air at the close of proceedings.

No Australians were reported injured, but the US Special Forces lost a man in a separate attack in the east Afghanistan mountains. British troops in Afghanistan have reportedly not yet seen combat but are drawing casualties from a mystery stomach bug.

Terrorism fears heightened

THERE was more widespread debate in the US this week over who knew what and when about last year’s terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Apparently US intelligence sources may have had some prior warning of the events. However, whether enough information was available to tie those information threads together is uncertain. Some cynically suggested that general warnings that new attacks could be imminent were merely designed to deflect scrutiny of the behaviour of the US Government. Nonetheless, reports of increased communications between al-Qaida groups, and associated blame for a synagogue attack in Tunisia and a suicide bombing in Pakistan, have raised fears of a significant regrouping.

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