Subject: AKI: Tough Time Ahead for Reconciliation within the Police

EAST TIMOR: TOUGH TIME AHEAD FOR RECONCILIATION WITHIN THE POLICE

Dili, 13 Oct. (AKI) - The East Timor Police Force (Polisa Nacional de Timor-Leste - PNTL) efforts to rebuild itself are being hampered by a deep mistrust and the scars left behind by the violence of the past few months. "What I wish to do now is to reconcile all police officers and unite them to serve the people, like in the past," East Timor police commander, Superintendent in Chief Paulo de Fatima Martins told Adnkronos International (AKI).

The former 3300-strong PNTL imploded and virtually dissolved in the midst of the April-May riots that rocked the tiny Southeast Asian country. The police force's weaknesses were rooted in its composition that included a large number of men who had worked for the Indonesian administration during the 24-year long occupation. This led to internal splits and to a rivalry with the army, which is made up mostly of former freedom fighters.

Between April and May, when a dispute within the army started the widespread riots that eventually led to the fall of former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's government and the deployment of foreign troops to East Timor, the police disintegrated and clashes with the army took place.

The worst incident happened on 25 May, when ten unarmed policemen, who had been assured safe-passage by the United Nations, were killed and 30 more were injured when rogue elements of the military opened fire. The police officers were accused of having attacked the military headquarters a day earlier.

However, those who were involved in the unrest say that the situation is even more complicated.

"I saw some of my police colleagues wearing military uniforms, carrying M-16 rifles and shooting at us," Joao 'Zeca' Quinamoco, a former police officer, who survived the attack, tearfully told AKI.

"What I want is reconciliation and forgiveness. But the police officers who committed the crimes against us should be brought to justice. Reconciliation without justice is a nonsense," added Joao, stressing the difficulties of rebuilding the nation.

Honorio Moniz, another former police officer, blamed East Timor police's deputy general commander Inspector Lino Saldanha.

"He was there on the 25 of May, with others. They were wearing military uniform and shooting with M-16. They were from the east of the country," he said emphasizing the regional-ethnic divide that was also one of the causes of the crisis.

East Timorese from the east are known as 'lorosae', while those from the west are 'loromonu'. The former accused the latter of having collaborated with Indonesia during the occupation.

"Is it possible for us to accept him back? Should we respect him? Should we salute him as our senior and commander while in the past he was a traitor to the institution?" he added.

Adnkronos International (AKI) tracked down Inspector Lino Saldanha who rejected the accusations.

"I totally reject this accusation. I had no weapons at all. I was facing papers and computers at all time. This is serious slander," he said.

However, Saldanha agreed that reconciliation should come with conditions.

"Reconciliation is good, but the officers who directly and indirectly provided weapons to civilians, and those who have made false accusations, should be investigated and brought to justice," he said.

In East Timor, policing is currently carried out mainly by the United Nations Police (UNIPOL). UNIPOL Acting Commander, Antero Lopes, recently said that about 900 Dili-based police are now registered for a screening process that began in early September, as a prerequisite for returning to work. Fifty of them, have returned to work.

(Fsc/Gui/Aki)

Oct-13-06 12:19


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