Subject: AT: E. Timor Police Mimic Violence of Ex-Masters

Asia Times Wednesday, January 28, 2004

E. Timorese Police Mimic Violence of Ex-Masters

By Jill Jolliffe

BOBONARO, East Timor - As the world's youngest nation battles to repress rebel groups, the harshness of the crackdown risks provoking the very instability the government seeks to prevent, critics charge. The problem, says a priest who is trying to mediate an end to the violence, is that the Timorese police learned their methods from their former masters: the Indonesian authorities who ruled East Timor with an iron fist for 24 years.

"There is a deep-seated belief that violence is normal," said Father Cyrus Banque, a priest in the border town of Bobonaro. "East Timor has been reared in violence, in the home and in the school, and has been traumatized by the militia and the Indonesian army. I believe many of these police officers need trauma counseling."

As Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri reaffirmed his commitment to repressing the rebel Committee to Defend the Democratic Republic of East Timor (CPD-RDTL) last week, Bobonaro was reeling from the effects of violent police raids that have divided the community and sown fear.

The nationwide raids against CPD-RDTL supporters began before Christmas, reportedly on the prime minister's orders, and have affected the sensitive border districts of Suai, Bobonaro and Maliana. The operation is scheduled to continue until March. Motivated by fear, the residents of some communities now sleep in the mountains rather than in their villages.

Father Cyrus has been trying to mediate between CPD-RDTL sympathizers and police since the violence began. He said the rebel movement had previously engaged in violent confrontation with local people, but has lived peaceably since 2001. He blames the police for creating fear and tension. "The police have provoked instability by heavy-handedness in dealing with suspects, aggravated by the local administrator," he said.

In Liquica last Wednesday the prime minister confirmed his commitment to the crackdown campaign. "They have been told to stop their activities but this hasn't worked, so they will be captured by the police," Alkatiri said, adding that United Nations and human-rights workers who object should "go back to their own countries".

East Timor has been plagued by rural-based rebel movements of millenarian outlook since independence. They flourish particularly among jobless ex-resistance fighters, promising the return from the jungles of dead guerrilla heroes and living from a mix of cooperative farming, extortion of money from fellow villagers by menace and, occasionally, highway robbery.

Groups other than CPD-RDTL are also targets of the police. These include the Sacred Family movement, led by ex-guerrilla commander Eli Foho Rai Bot, an animist group called Colimau 2000, and people known simply as isolados ("isolated ones" in Portuguese) who live in small groups high in the mountains.

Last week seven men from the Maubere Mountain Peaks group at Bazartete, near Dili, were captured in raids by police and jailed pending investigation of charges of rebellion, insulting public authority and extortion. The first two charges were laid under articles of the old Indonesian penal code used by the Suharto dictatorship to silence critics.

Of these groups, the CPD-RDTL is the most troublesome. It originated from a split in the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor's (Fretilin's) guerrilla command in the 1980s, and is led by Antonio Ai-tahan Matak, a former resistance courier crippled by torture during a year's imprisonment in Kupang, West Timor, in 1983.

CPD-RDTL has aroused anger by rejecting the elected Fretilin government, refusing to register as a political party, and claiming to be the real Fretilin. It is considered short on ideology and high on nuisance value, but it has a considerable - and possibly growing - following. It opposes the use of Portuguese as an official language, and believes the government is unrepresentative because it is drawn from Fretilin leaders who lived in exile during the 24-year rule by Indonesia.

Since independence, CPD-RDTL members have been jailed sporadically for acts of petty violence. A few arms, radios and uniforms have been seized, but no credible evidence has yet emerged of external financial or military backing, despite Fretilin government attempts to link it to militia groups in West Timor.

Brigadier-General Paul Retter, the Australian deputy commander of UN peacekeeping forces, denied that any serious security threat exists in the border area. "There are no armed criminal groups in the western districts of East Timor that we know of," he asserted.

Ai-tahan Matak has hinted that CPD-RDTL will take power after May when the current UN mission leaves, and the movement is now producing a "national identity card" to compete with the government one. The present operation was launched to seize the cards, although international observers claim it has no basis in Timorese law.

A week ago he presented evidence that there had been police beatings of his supporters during raids.

On their own admission, Bobonaro administrator Ernesto do Oliveira Barreto, three Timorese policemen and two private security guards moved through outlying hamlets on January 5-6, seizing rebel identity cards. CPD-RDTL claims that they systematically attacked its activists and that, in the village of Masop on January 6, a two-year-old child in its mother's arms was killed by a police blow directed at its mother, Joana Guterres, after she attempted to stop them beating her husband Xavier.

Father Cyrus said he had been informed separately that an elderly woman in Masop had also been beaten by Barreto and the policemen, who whipped her with a knotted blanket.

They were among the few people left in the village after news of the imminent police arrival spread. The rest had fled to the mountains, leaving only the sick and elderly. Other beatings were alleged to have occurred in the villages of Oalgomo and Holmesel.

Human-rights workers had to retreat from Oalgomo on January 16 after a CPD-RDTL complainant was beaten up by pro-government villagers in their presence, and no independent observers have succeeded in entering Masop.

The Timorese police remain under UN authority until May, but UN commanders, already weighed down by the problems of the troubled national force, have not intervened so far. Asked about the complaints in Bobonaro, UN commissioner Sandi Peisley asserted: "There is a lot of rumor in relation to police, and the issue of the two-year-old child is rumor, not fact."

Rights workers have no illusions about the unpopularity CPD-RDTL has earned from its stand-over tactics, but stress that this is no justification for government forces to act outside the law or to whip up hatred against its supporters.

"CPD-RDTL feels left out, its followers are frustrated because ex-fighters are not given recognition, and the government lacks the persuasive approach," Father Cyrus asserted. "Most CPD members are just simple, poor people, easily convinced by others."

Their Bobonaro supporters, about 350 clansfolk in two villages outside town, meet the priest's description - they are mostly old people, women and children, all poor. Masop can be seen in the distance. A request by Asia Times Online for a guide to walk there was denied. "If we take you, we'll be beaten up by government supporters," aging chief Carlos de Jesus said, "and if you go alone you may be attacked." There is fear in their faces. They have not been harassed during the current campaign only because the priest has protected them.

Administrator Barreto and Bobonaro police commander Atanasio Barreto admitted for the first time, in separate interviews, that the child in Masop had died. They claimed, however, that it died of illness "three or four days" after the raid.

Ernesto Barreto spoke nervously about events of January 6. Commander Atanasio Barreto had said earlier that the toddler was buried in Masop cemetery. But both men insist Joana Guterres' daughter was sick before they arrived and that - implausibly - knowing this, they had brought medicines for her on the police raid.

"I told them if they didn't give results they should take the baby to hospital ... she died because they didn't," Barreto said.

He denied that anyone struck Joana, but admitted ordering police to handcuff her husband Xavier so he would confess to having CPD-RDTL cards. "He's just a short, illiterate, worthless person who has left off farming to get mixed up in politics," he claimed.

The real issue is not the conflict with the troublesome rural rebels, but the problem of building a police force that respects human rights in the new East Timor. The international community has invested millions of dollars in this objective since 1999. The UN is unhappy about the general security situation in East Timor and, after May, will probably substitute its current mission with another, but its final chance to apply corrective measures to the police is in the next four months.

Father Cyrus argues that the Timorese government "should be firm in building the foundations of a good police for East Timor - it is key to the future".

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