Subject: Peace building in Timor Leste: a third way?

“Peace building in Timor Leste: a third way?”

Xavier Besnard

Programme Manager

Triangle GH ­ Timor Leste

In 2010, Timor Leste will have to deal with the social aspects of the reintegration process. A great challenge that is far to be easy to address because the reintegration of returnees still has to face deep structural difficulties as well as remained obstacles due to the 2006 crisis:

-First, Timor Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world. 50% of the population is currently living under $0.88/day. Due to this structural poverty, people in Timor leste face great difficulties accessing livelihood, jobs and social facilities, especially in Dili. Indeed, since 1999, Dili has seen its population growing in a spectacular manner from 100.715 to 173.541, increasing the pressure on natural and economical resources. According to Neupert and Lopes, around 50% of this growth would be the fact of major internal migrations. (“The demographic components of the crisis in Timor Leste” - 2006). In such a context, the return of the IDPs has to face a structural lack of social and economical resources, and so, it has to compose with the issue of unemployment frustration.

-Secondly, the justice system difficulties generates a culture of impunity by making impossible to prosecute those who were responsible for burning houses, chasing people and occupying properties in 2006. Returnees came back to their home and have now to face a neighborhood community which is sometimes still unreceptive. These groups are now placed in a situation which is dominated by a frustrated justice.

-Furthermore, many issues on lands and properties generate disputes that the recent national framework can still not control. Indeed, even if a new land law was recently voted in the last months, the land issues are extremely complex in Timor Leste, due to the historical lack of land policies and the successive occupations and displacements of population. The facts show that the normal restitution of houses takes time and that today, it’s far from being completed yet. Based on IDMC December report, 5 800 land claims have been recorded in 6 districts by November 2009, during the cadastral information programme supported by USAID.

-In addition, many groups of youth, particularly in Dili, have a strong influence on the evolution of the level of violence registered. According to the report of TLAVA project, martial art groups have grown significantly in influence in recent years. 20 000 members are said to be registered today and probably at least as many unregistered members, with influence in at least 13 districts. The report underlines the fact that Dili has become the main battleground for martial art groups. Based on the analysis of TLAVA, MAG disputes embody communal ones as each community mobilizes its youths to defend its territory. When one family use a MAG to attack another family, in return, MAG members from other families or extended families become involved. Thus, a family dispute can become a gang conflict. In the reintegration process, as the issues around properties and resources directly impact the communities’ acceptance of returning IDPs, the Youth conflicts still can be seen as an important factor of destabilization.

All these factors of tension show that the risks of local conflicts in Timor Leste and specifically in Dili is still active and has not been resolved yet. They impact directly the political process of reconciliation that officially occurs in Timor Leste by exacerbating new kind of social antagonisms. These social tensions appear between host and returned people but more generally between the communities themselves.

As the matter of fact, in Timor Leste, two fields of conflict mitigation activities have been mainly explored since 2007 by institutions and humanitarian agencies to facilitate the returns of IDPs:

* the conflict resolution through case by case mediation activities

* and dialogue initiatives between local leaders and civil society through conflict prevention trainings

We believe that mediation and local leader training strategies are indispensable but could be completed with an approach more inclusive.

The peace building process could be strengthened with special emphasis placed on enhancing the role of the community itself, and not only by leaders or individuals concerned by a particular dispute situation.

In the current framework, it seems so that specific actions focused on the grass roots strengthening of the social cohesion could be highlighted, and new alternative approaches could be explored in terms of reconciliationbased activities.

Several interviews with chiefs of those sucos with high rates of returned household revealed that punctual strategies such as mediation activities or specific strategies such as dialogue with the only local leaders have real but partial results. Authorities of these sucos expressed their wish to see the whole communities involved on a deeper and more durable way in extended peace building activities.

If conflict resolution initiatives through case by case mediation activities should theoretically achieve sustainable local integration by solving disputes one by one, we believe that local integration initiatives for IDPs also represent a great means to pacify relationships.

By local integration, we mean community based initiatives that mixed individuals from different groups of concern around regular and common activities. This approach do not solve directly specific problems, like land or property issues, but it provides means, capacities and facilities to the community groups able to develop inclusive local initiatives.

Local integration strategy supposes to target both returnees and host communities, and so, to build a global community-based approach. It means that returnees should not be longer identified as a group of concern. This supposes an equal access to livelihoods and humanitarian services. If it seems clear that some of the root causes of the social tensions can be addressed by the political channel, through justice, security or land reforms, a great part of the solution remains in the strengthening of the social cohesion, as a way to convinced people that they can move on, create and achieve local projects together.

The selection of local groups able to involve their community in collective and creative projects can be a powerful means to stimulate the social link on a positive way. Supporting such local groups of activity (such as painting, handicraft, sewing…) based on participation and able to spread an inclusive message is a way to promote peace. As this kind of groups embody today the future of a Timor Leste unified and reconciled, the support, the promotion and the guidance of such community initiatives which already exist in young state, can have a practical grass root role in the reconciliation process.

Thus, peace building strategy should be extended at the psychosocial level, which consists in encouraging and supporting collective community projects of activities which are based on opening and non discrimination. These experiences already showed their local impacts. Of course, supporting these groups requires specific methodologies to prevent all the difficulties related to their constitution and to address the problem of its sustainability.

However, we believe that these kinds of inclusive actions should be strongly reinforced and really valorized in the current national recovery process as a possible third way in the global peace building strategy.

Xavier Besnard Programme Manager Triangle GH ­ Timor Leste Tel: +670 741 9614 Email: Site Web: 

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