Timor-Leste: A Time to 'Measure our Capacity'


Deborah Johnson

In his televised address to the nation on 31 August 2004, on the occasion of Timor-Leste's 5th anniversary of its independence vote, President Xanana Gumão described it as a day of reflection-a day to 'measure our capacity'.

'Capacity-building', of course has been a key focus of the government and of UNMISET (the UN Mission of Support in East Timor, operating since East Timorese independence on 21 May 2002). The challenge has been to rebuild from the ground up the infrastructure of Timor-Leste-at least 70 per cent of which was destroyed in 1999 by the departing Indonesian military and local militias. By the time that UNMISET is due to be wound up on 20 May 2005, it is hoped that East Timor will have achieved a 'critical threshold of self-sufficiency' such that it will be able to face the future and any pent-up forces that may seek release when the UN presence departs.

Xanana highlighted four areas for specific attention: state building; economic development; security and stability; and entrenchment of the democratic process. Generally, progress as been made in all these areas, but for some people it has been much slower and not as inclusive as they might have hoped. Two groups of disenchanted were specifically mentioned by Xanana: the Veterans (who fought for independence against Indonesia, but not all of whom managed to get positions in the country's police (PNTL) and military (F-FTDL); and, unemployed youth who were 'learning martial arts'-the very kind of people who might be enticed into joining criminal gangs (and in the late 1990s joined the various militia groups). Whilst the country has generally been peaceful, security concerns remain. This was again highlighted when on 19-20 July when a group of disgruntled veterans led by Cornelio Gama, also known as L-7, gathered to protest outside the Government building in Dili. Police finally moved in using tear gas to break up the protest and arrested some 26 people. The PNTL was subsequently criticised for being too heavy handed in dealing with the situation. A parliamentary ad hoc committee has been considering the recommendations of a report of the Veterans Commission presented to Parliament by Xanana on 8 June 2004.

Against this background, Timor-Leste has requested that a UN security presence remain until May 2005. As of 31 July 2004, the UN wound back its civilian police, troops and military observers from 3,000 to 604. The military component was reduced from 1750 to 477, comprising 42 military liaison officers, 310 uniformed troops (mostly deployed in border regions) and a 125-member International Response Unit, one platoon of which is deployed in the capital, Dili. (The UN Security Council is to decide in November on any further changes.)

Among the areas of concern highlighted by the UN's own Progress Report S/2004/669 (29 Apr-13 Aug. 2004) were the following:

1. Demarcation of the land border with Indonesia - on 30 June the two countries signed an agreement confirming 90 per cent of the border with ongoing talks projected to resolve the remaining 10 per cent by October 2004. Agreements on the issuance of border passes and a transit facility linking the enclave of Oecussi to the rest of Timor-Leste remain to be resolved.

2. Delineation of maritime borders with Indonesia and Australia with agreement over the sharing of oil resources with Australia yet to be achieved - a 20-22 September meeting in Canberra failed to settle the issue. However, both East Timorese and Australian officials are hopeful that a resolution will be achieved by end 2004. At stake are significant revenues, which would be a boost to the Timor-Leste's income and economy.

3. Prosecution of people charged for serious crimes-some 279 of 373 indicted thus far are residing in Indonesia and cannot be prosecuted. Ongoing investigations by the UN-funded Serious Crimes Unit and prosecutions would have to be completed by May 2005-a difficult task. Concerns have been raised over the 5 August overturning by an Indonesian Appeals Court of the convictions by the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor in Jakarta of three Indonesian military officers and a police officer implicated in the 1999 violence. This means that while six of the 18 people tried were convicted, only the convictions of the two East Timorese (former East Timor governor Abilio Jose Soares serving a three sentence; and pro-Jakarta militiaman, Eurico Guterres, serving a five year sentence reduced from ten years) have been upheld. This has led to calls for an international tribunal-calls which the Timor-Leste government has not supported, because of its need to foster good relations with Indonesia.

4. Institutional and economic development - Timor-Leste assumed responsibility for its internal and external security as of 20 May 2004; key legislation has been passed, for example with regard to the structuring of the PNTL and F-FDTL, the justice system, commercial companies; and moves have been made towards 'east Timorising' the administration. However, without a sufficient national income and trained human resources, difficulties will remain. There are concerns over the limited logistical capability of East Timorese security forces; over mechanisms and resources to enforce PNTL and F-FDTL discipline and professional standards; and over the shortage of qualified (especially middle management) personnel and over the limited judicial infrastructure limiting the judicial process. There is ongoing and widespread poverty; a current annual population growth rate of 3 per cent, which is outstripping real GDP growth projected to be 1 per cent in 2004. (A recent census indicated the population has grown by 17.5 per cent since 2001. Now at 925,000, the population is projected to the one million mark by 2005.) There are stretched educational and health resources; ongoing needs to support agricultural and infrastructure development; and difficulties in meeting expectations for employment and providing for basic needs.

Clearly the road ahead is a challenging one. Xanana spoke of an East Timorese culture of 'dialogue and reconciliation', called Badame', in contrast to the violence of the past. He called for the participation of all and the channeling of frustrations into efforts to solve the problems and build a better future. Much is at stake-not only for East Timorese, but also for neighbouring countries and the international community, which has a great deal of its reputation invested in the reconstruction efforts.

WATCHPOINT: Will the UN continue to maintain its security presence into 2005 and will ongoing pressure on Australia yield a resolution to the maritime border issue.


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