Subject: East Timor: Incidents of gang violence reduced, says UN police

Timor: Incidents of gang violence reduced, says UN police

Dili, 14 Jan. (AKI) - The violence among East Timor's many gangs has declined, according to a head of the UN police.

Hermanprit Singh, acting police commissioner of the United Nations Police (UNPol) in East Timor, said the reduction was partially due to the elections that were held last year.

"Once the elections were done and the new government was in place, after some initial hiccups, some violence that came with the change of government, the security situation has shown gradual but sure improvement," Singh said.

His comments appeared in a report on the UNMIT Weekly, an assessment of the situation in East Timor compiled by the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which is the last UN mission in the troubled South-east Asian country.

Singh also said the creation of a gang task force had helped to identify and reduce the incidence of gang violence.

He said posting UN police in the districts, and strengthening the country's justice system had also contributed.

Singh also attributed some credit to the National Police of East Timor (PNTL).

PNTL is to take over the executive policing responsibilities of three police posts in Dili from UNPol at the end of January.

"The first and foremost examples will be Bidau, Merkadu Lama and Bairro Pite," Singh said. "I think this will be the first major step."

The commissioner said that although UNPol will carry out its responsibilities in mentoring the nation's progress, the problem should also be tackled in other ways.

Singh suggested improving employment opportunities and economic development to create lasting peace.

East Timorese gangs gained notoriety in May 2005 when the country descended into civil turmoil. At least 37 people died and 150,000 others fled their homes in the violence that ensued and which led to the return of international peacekeeping troops and the UN.

Recent history and poverty are at the root of the proliferation of gangs in East Timor. Many gangs emerged in opposition to the 24-year-long occupation by Indonesia, which ended in 1999.

In a survey conducted in 2005, Australian academic James Scambary claimed that half of Dili's population was involved in gang culture.

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