Subject: Harsh spotlight on Timor forces

The Age

Stephanie March, Dili

March 15, 2008

EAST Timor's police and military have been accused of beating and torturing citizens since a state of emergency began following the February 11 attacks that left President Jose Ramos Horta wounded and rebel leader Alfredo Reinado dead.

Sources in Ermera district, close to where the remaining rebels are reportedly hiding, have complained of beatings by the military as the hunt for rebel leader Gastao Salsinha and his followers continues.

A report by the Ombudsman for Human Rights detailed eight separate incidents of beatings, unlawful detention and harassment by the police, known as the PNTL, and military, or FDTL, under the state of emergency, but sources from Parliament and police say the numbers are much higher.

In one incident from the report, a group of armed military police using four-wheel-drives with tinted windows and no registration plates chased a man through the capital, Dili, before assaulting him and dislocating his shoulder.

In another incident, a group of police reportedly entered a victim's house in Dili without an arrest warrant and kicked him in the stomach.

"There was no need to use such excessive force to arrest the individual. These actions show an abuse of power on the part of the authority, violating human rights during the state of siege," said the report.

The report comes as problems between the joint command and United Nations police begin to surface.

At Dili airport late last month, a group of FDTL military forced UN police at gunpoint to hand over a suspect they had brought by helicopter from the western enclave of Oecussi.

The Deputy Commissioner of the UN Police in East Timor, Hermanprit Singh, said the incident at the airport was unfortunate but was being investigated.

There have been other reports that UN police who have tried to stop beatings of innocent civilians by the PNTL have been threatened by PNTL officers.

A spokeswoman for the UN mission admitted they too were receiving complaints of human rights violations by police and military but she refused to elaborate.

The country's ombudsman, Sebastiao Dias Ximenes, compared the "mentality" of the East Timorese forces to that of the Indonesian police during their 24-year occupation of the island nation. "If I compare with Indonesian time, the police of Indonesian (are) better than our police ­ not worse but better," Mr Ximenes said.

The report also named the International Stabilisation Force, which comprises Australian and New Zealand troops, as inappropriately capturing people caught breaking the 10pm-6am curfew, but did not detail specific incidents.

The ISF are providing tactical and operational support to the 465 Timorese officers deployed to 30 checkpoints across the country as authorities wait for the remaining rebels to surrender.

Both East Timor's Police Commander, Alfonso De Jesus, and Commander of the ISF, Brigadier James Baker, refused to comment on the report's findings.

East Timorese MP Fernanda Borges, leader of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, said Parliament had received more reports about aggressive behaviour and unlawful assaults, including intimidation. She had received reports from victims that security forces were using this opportunity to "settle old scores" that they might have had from the 2006 crisis or the resistance years.

Mr Ximenes said neither police nor military wore name tags on their uniforms, making it difficult for victims to identify perpetrating officers and near impossible to take disciplinary action.

Last month analysts expressed grave concern at the East Timorese Government's decision to merge the police and military under the same command for the period of the state of emergency, just two years after violence between sections of the two forces destabilised the country, leaving 37 dead and forcing 150,000 to flee their homes.

International Crisis Group analyst Sophia Cason warned the merger could lead to a confusion of roles and powers.
 

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