Subject: East Timor armed forces young at 33
ETimor armed forces young at 33
Updated August 20, 2008 16:02:14
As East Timor's defence force celebrates it's 33rd anniversary, analysts
say it will take time to build the force's strength.
Radio Australia's Stephanie March reports that the transition from
resistance fighters to professional soldiers has not been easy.
Falintil started out in 1975 as the military wing of the Fretilin
resistance group, surviving in the jungle for 25 years as it tried to
fight off occupying Indonesian forces.
Since East Timor
gained independence in 1999, the now-called Falintil-FDTL has been
trying to establish itself as the nation's official armed forces.
Julio Tomas Pinto, the State Secretary for Defence, says it needs time.
"We just have seven years after independence and if we compare with
other countries we see that our military now needs to develop again in
discipline," he said.
Tensions between the military and police flared in 2006, when hundreds
of soldiers abandoned their barracks in protest over discrimination, and
plunged the country into a bloody crisis.
But in February this year, those same forces surprised everyone by
banding together under operation 'Halibur', meaning 'gather', in a bid
to catch the rebels responsible for shooting
President Jose Ramos Horta.
Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Ferndale, the chief of the Australian Defence
Cooperation Program in East Timor, told
Radio Australia the
evidence from operation Halibur is that the force has settled down since
"They have a large rebuilding process to go through," Lt Col Ferndale
"Obviously they lost a lot of people who walked out in 2006 and they are
in the process now of commencing a recruitment program.
"Those recruits will go someway towards re-establishing the force to the
size it was," he said.
Anna Powles, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in
East Timor, agrees
that establishing a fully-functioning force takes time.
"Of course FFDTL will need time to develop, will need time to ensure
that there's a culture of non partisanship, ensure that there are clear
and impartial procedures within the military, ensure that it does not
become politicised and that there is no discrimination within the
military," she said.
While some authorities in East Timor commended both the PNTL police
force and FFDTL military for their ability to work together during the
hunt for the rebels, some groups are still concerned.
The provadore for human rights received dozens of complaints from
civilians against the security forces during the state of siege
following the attack on President Ramos Horta.
A recent United Nations report has confirmed several incidents where
members of the military threatened UN police with weapons.
Anna Powles says it's important to remember that it's only elements of
the force that are causing problems.
"As to what it necessarily reveals about those elements in FFDTL perhaps
suggests a level of 'gungho-ness' and perhaps reflects a degree of a
lack of discipline.
"It is again something internally that the FFDTL needs to resolve," she
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