Subject: Jane's interview with Commander Paixao, East Timor Defence Force

Jane's Defence Weekly Vol. 35; No. 18 May 2, 2001


Commander Filomeno Paixao, Chief liaison officer, East Timor Defence Force

By JOHN HASEMAN JDW Correspondent


After many years as a guerrilla fighting the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Cdr Filomeno Paixao now serves as the chief liaison officer for the new East Timor Defence Force (ETDF). He works with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the former Forcas Armadas de Libertacao Nacional de Timor Leste (Falintil) guerrilla force now in training as the first elements of the ETDF, foreign trainers and advisers, and the new leadership of East Timor.

Cdr Paixao is a long-time associate of East Timor's political leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and ETDF Commander Brig Gen Taur Matan Ruak.

Photo: 'We want every army in the world to respect us' (Source: J Haseman)

"Before the tragic events of September 1999 we told the international community we wanted to have the Costa Rica model for our country with police handling our security," explains Cdr Paixao. "When the last Indonesian troops withdrew, one of the topics that quickly arose was disbanding Falintil. But after what happened here, you can understand that it was unacceptable for us. They are revered by our people because of their commitment, their dedication, their strong link to our people, this is the strongest weapon they have - the love of our people. But then after what the militias did to our country we decided it was essential that we have an army to defend our country. And the best way to set up an army quickly was through use of the Falintil."

The first intake for the ETDF comprises 650 former Falintil members, who will form the army's first battalion. Under a UN-approved plan the ETDF will eventually comprise 1,500 active and 1,500 reserve personnel.

"We had some challenges at first," admits Cdr Paixao. "Many men were unhappy because their former commanders [in Falintil] were not selected as officer candidates for various reasons, so they just left. In the past we all knew each other very closely. We were used to operating in very small groups. A lot of trainees have found it difficult to take orders from somebody they do not know," he says. He cites the difficulty of adjusting from the isolated guerrilla force lifestyle to the more disciplined structure of a regular army. However, Cdr Paixao notes that, of the 100-plus men that dropped out of training because of dissatisfaction with the selection process, nearly all have since returned.

"We want to be completely professional," he asserts. "We want every army in the world to respect us. So we are working hard on discipline and becoming a professional army. The trainers are happy with the results. Our men had to learn quickly that the discipline of a conventional army is different from the discipline of a guerrilla."

At the strategic level, Cdr Paixao says he and other East Timorese leaders have grasped concepts quickly. "The most important achievement for East Timor was peace," he says. "Any other challenges will be much easier to overcome."

However, there are many problems. "We need weapons, we need equipment. We have a lot of help from countries all over the world, but we start with nothing but our spirit and our country. Maybe that is enough." The first intake of recruits is training with US-built M16 assault rifles on loan from the Australian Defence Force. However, ownership will not be transferred without the approval of the US government.

The first increment of the ETDF will be trained by Portuguese and Australian military instructors. Timing for subsequent intakes and training schedules has yet to be decided. "That's up to the politicians," he explains. Recruiting for subsequent intakes will be open to anyone over 18 in East Timor, including women.

When that begins, Cdr Paixao plans that some officers and sergeants from the first increment will become trainers. "Hopefully by the time all of our people have been recruited, we will be doing almost all of the training ourselves."

He is enthusiastic about the training mission. "One of the reasons this will work," he says, "is that we are used to hardship and we can take it. We have chosen the best of our veterans. The Portuguese gave everyone aptitude and psychological tests to pick the officer candidates and sergeants. They had to pass a regular physical exam too. They understand discipline."

"We obeyed orders to stay in Aileu instead of fighting the [pro- Indonesian] militia in 1999, because we knew Indonesia wanted us to fight and use that as an excuse to cancel the voting. We watched them kill our families and burn our homes and still we obeyed orders. This is going to make us very strong in the future."

Cdr Paixao was part of the selection team that picked the new ETDF training site at Metinaro and is enthusiastic about the facility (Jane's Defence Weekly 25 April). "It's much bigger than Aileu and close enough to Dili so we can support it better." Most importantly, it meets a major criteria established by the East Timorese. "We decided that we will not use any of the former ABRI [Indonesian armed forces] facilities. That is our policy." Much of the ABRI military infrastructure was destroyed or damaged in the September 1999 rampage, but some of it remains intact. The former military headquarters for East Timor is now headquarters for the UN civilian police force, for example. However, for the ETDF this is a deeply symbolic issue. "We simply will not sleep in their barracks or work in their offices, after what they did to our people."

The formation of the ETDF is not due to be completed before 2003.

A proposal has been submitted to the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the UNTAET peacekeeping force until this process is complete.

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