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11/10/2006 | Resolving Timor-Leste’s Crisis

International Crisis Group Staff

The worst period in Timor-Leste’s short independent history is not over but there is general agreement on the elements of a resolution – the problem is getting a dysfunctional government to implement them.

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMANDATIONS

The worst crisis in Timor-Leste’s short history is far from over. The country is in political limbo, waiting for the report of the UN-appointed Independent Special Commission of Inquiry that is expected to name names and recommend prosecutions for perpetrators of the April-May violence in Dili that killed more than 30 people. Scheduled for release in mid-October, it is critical to moving forward but potentially explosive. Elections scheduled for May 2007 could be another flashpoint. With some creativity, focus, and political will, Timor-Leste can get back on track but the wounds are deep, and it will require enormous political magnanimity on the part of a few key actors.

There is, however, a growing consensus on what is needed for resolution, including security sector reform. A new, expanded UN mission is in place with the mandate of “consolidating stability, enhancing a culture of democratic governance, and facilitating dialogue among Timorese stakeholders”.

The crisis is widely portrayed as stemming from the sacking of a third of the country’s defence forces in March 2006, after which the disgruntled soldiers became part of a power struggle between President Xanana Gusmao and the now deposed prime minister, Mari Alkatiri. However, the problem is far more complex.

The roots lie partly in the battles and betrayals that occurred within the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor (FRETILIN), just before and during the Indonesian occupation. Ideological and political disputes in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly between FRETILIN central committee members and Xanana Gusmao, then commander of the guerrilla army FALINTIL, carried over into the post-conflict government.

They are also to be found in the poorly implemented demobilisation of FALINTIL fighters in 2000 and the creation of a defence force for the new country in 2001 that absorbed some of the veterans but left others unemployed and resentful while donors and the UN devoted most of their attention to creation of a new police force. That many of the police, vetted and retrained, had worked for the Indonesian administration, was more salt in the wounds of the ex-fighters.

The old ideological splits and the frustrations of the ex-FALINTIL were manipulated in particular by Rogerio Lobato, a FRETILIN central committee member who had lived in Angola and Mozambique for the duration of the conflict. As interior minister, he controlled the police, encouraged rivalry with the defence force, most of whom were personally loyal to Xanana Gusmao, and created specialised police units that effectively became a private security force. The police under him were in charge of law and order, border patrol, riot control and immigration. It was never clear what the role of the defence force was.

All these problems had been festering for years. When 159 soldiers in January 2006 petitioned the president as supreme commander, alleging discrimination in the defence force by officers from the eastern part of the country (lorosae) against people from the west (loromonu), many interested parties saw political opportunity. More soldiers from the west joined the petitioners, while personal and institutional tensions between a president commited to pluralism and a ruling party with distinctly authoritarian tendencies, politicisation of the police, lack of any regulatory framework for the security forces more generally and the in-bred nature of a tiny political elite with 30 years’ shared history allowed matters to spiral out of control.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Timor-Leste Government and the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor jointly:

1.  Immediately define terms of reference and allocate funds for the “comprehensive review of the future role and needs of the security sector” as specified in Article 4(e) of Security Council Resolution 1704/2006, and quickly appoint the necessary staff to get the review underway.

2.  Use the review to clarify the roles of the defence force (F-FDTL), police (PNTL), and intelligence agencies; maritime, border, and internal security threats; command and control arrangements, including in emergencies; and civilian oversight mechanisms.

3.  Create a job corps for urban youth, starting in Dili, simultaneously to reduce the propensity for gang violence and to address an unemployment rate for this group estimated at over 40 per cent.

To the Timor-Leste Government:

4.  Establish a national security council based on the above review, on which the commanders of the police and F-FDTL, the heads of intelligence agencies, and the ministers of defence and interior would sit.

5.  Resolve as a matter of urgency the issue of the F-FDTL deserters, by prosecutions where appropriate and absorption of the rest either back into the defence force or into civilian jobs.

6.  Develop a plan for the gradual retirement of resistance veterans within the F-FDTL and a more comprehensive social security package for all veterans.

7.  Absorb the special police units created by Rogerio Lobato into the regular police as a temporary measure until the security review is complete and any further restructuring can be based on identified needs.

8.  Review the police re-screening plan after a month or two to see if it can be streamlined in the interests of getting police back to work more quickly.

9.  Seek agreement from leaders of all political parties on a political code of ethics for the 2007 elections, announce it on radio and television and ensure it is conveyed to all levels of party structures.

10.  Ensure that the president and all ministers give full backing to the Simu-Malu reconciliation project and explore other avenues of healing the east-west (loromonu-lorosae) rift, with particular attention to the role that women in affected communities can play.

11.  Adopt the recommendations of the Truth, Reception and Reconciliation Mission’s report Chega! [Enough!], giving priority to those related to security of the person, the security sector, protection of the rights of the vulnerable and reconciliation, and disseminate the entire report widely.

To the UN Secretary-General and Secretariat:

12.  Appoint an activist Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) who will engage members of the political elite but not shy away from conflict, intervening where necessary to overcome fractiousness, adjust programs that are going astray and help clear political hurdles.

13.  Institute procedures for improving recruitment of international judges, prosecutors and lawyers to serve in Timor-Leste courts.

14.  Invite a peer review periodically of judicial performance, including in the Court of Appeal, by an independent panel.

15.  Ensure that there is regular oversight of UN-funded programs in the law and legal development area by a senior UN official with expertise in the area.

International Crisis Group (Organismo Internacional)

 

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