Australia finds itself in the unusual position of currently having more of its troops in East Timor than Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some 1,400 diggers (as well as troops from Malaysia and New Zealand) have joined 150 Aussie soldiers already in East Timor, which has been wracked by days of rioting in the capital city of Dili. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles to the east in the Solomon Islands, 400 Aussie troops were deployed after disputed prime ministerial elections last month resulted in riots.
Writes David Flicking of The Guardian:
For the latest from East Timor, go here. For a report on the whole mess by the International Institute for Sustainable Development entitled "Aiding or Abetting: Dilemmas of Foreign Aid and Political Instability in the Melanesian Pacific," go here (pdf format).
It's understandable at a time like this that fears in Canberra turn towards the emergence of an "arc of instability" off Australia's northern coasts.
Even Fiji, the tourist capital of the region, has been looking sickly. There has been no repeat of the coups that result whenever the Indo-Fijian minority gets a taste of power, and fears of unrest were averted this month when generak elections returned a Melanesian-dominated government . . .
The nightmare scenario is that one of these countries could become a failed state and a breeding ground for either terrorism, or transnational crime, or both.
Brigadier Michael Slater faced Australia's Channel 9 "Today" show cameras with heavily armed soldiers standing behind him.
He was pressed by "Today" news hen Jessica Rowe about whether Dili really was as safe as the Australian military claimed given the presence of the soldiers.
Jessica I feel quite safe, yes, but not because I've got these armed soldiers behind me that were put there by your stage manager here to make it look good.
I don't need these guys here.
It is not safe on the streets as it is back home in Sydney or Brisbane – no it's not, if it was we wouldn't be here. But things are getting better every day.
(Hat tip to The Mudville Gazette.)