UN and East Timor Government Push for Tougher Police Measures

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sat Dec 21 00:01:13 MST 2002

Following student protests in Dili:
UN and East Timor government push for tougher police measures

By John Ward and Peter Symonds
20 December 2002

In the wake of violent protests in the capital of Dili on December 4,
the East Timorese government, backed by UN officials, has attempted
to deflect attention from the country's mounting social tensions by
blaming politically-motivated "provocateurs". Backed by the UN,
Portugal and Australia, it has called for measures to bolster the
police in preparation for further unrest.

Government ministers and officials have variously accused their
political opponents and remnants of pro-Indonesian militia for the
violence that resulted in two deaths. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri
immediately pointed that finger at the CDP-RDTL, a group calling for
the UN to leave East Timor. UN representative Kamalesh Sharma has
claimed that the riots may have been "a planned attack against
selected targets".

 From the available details, however, it is clear that the chief
responsibility for provoking the protests rests with the East Timor
police, which is trained and commanded by the UN. Moreover, as the
situation rapidly escalated out of control, the Fretilin-led
government relied on UN troops to suppress the demonstrators, who
lashed out and attacked symbols of the privileged ruling elite.

An article in the Australian highlighted the role of the notorious
Special Police Unit which, on December 3, went to a secondary school
to arrest a 20-year-old student named Daniel, suspected of a
gang-related murder. Citing Jose Agustino, deputy director of the
Students Solidarity Council, it described what took place: "Officers
handcuffed one of Daniel's wrists, threw the chain over a bar and
hoisted him, painfully, from the ground. Students and teachers
surrounded the police, demanding they stop the brutality".

Agustino told the newspaper: "The police were uncontrolled. We reject
that kind of attitude." As Daniel was dragged away, the police kicked
one of the teachers and struck other students. A protest march by 200
students and teachers to the parliament building was broken up by UN
and East Timorese police who used tear gas and fired warning shots.

The following day, 500 people gathered outside parliament to protest
against the behaviour of the police and asked to speak to a
government representative. When no one appeared, some threw stones at
the building, injuring a parliamentarian. The angry crowd moved to
the nearby police headquarters where they confronted police, who, in
response some stone throwing, let off warning shots and then fired
directly into the unarmed protestors.

Two students-14-year-old Horatio Ximenes and 18-year-old Manuel De
Silva-died and 16 others were injured, two critically, as a result of
the police shootings. Even though all of the media reports indicate
that the police fired straight into the crowd, the East Timor
ambassador to the UN Jose Luis Gutteres claimed that police bullets
were not responsible for the deaths. He provided no forensic
evidence, and none has been subsequently released, to back his

The Australian cited an intelligence source in East Timor who
declared: "Whatever they find about who shot who, there's no doubt
that 100 percent of the shootings were by police. They behaved like
wild dogs." Following the shootings, the protest erupted into a riot
and was joined by unemployed youth. Alkatiri's home was attacked and
burned along with a number of foreign-owned businesses, including the
"Hello Mister" supermarket that supplies high-priced imported goods
to UN staff and others.

The police responded brutally and indiscriminately. At least five
people with gunshot wounds insist that police shot them. In each case
the witnesses blamed members of the Special Police Unit. Marcel
Ximenes, a stallholder at the Comoro market, told the Age newspaper:
"They got out of the car and began shooting. I wasn't in the
demonstration. My life is just working to get enough to eat."

An eyewitness told the Australian: "I saw two police vehicles chasing
a dozen students down the street, running for their lives. Several
shots were fired. I looked up and saw one guy, maybe a student,
standing rigid on the balcony of the Harvey World Travel building.
The police came to a screaming halt, struck him with batons even
though he was motionless, pushed him to the ground and kicked and
punched him, and threw him in the back of the wagon."...

The actions of the government and the UN on the day provide a
revealing glimpse into the real state of political relations in
"independent" East Timor. While the police in Dili did not receive
their orders from UNMISET, they are nevertheless under the direct
control of UN Police (UNPOL). There are still more than 700 UN police
in East Timor and their role in the events of December 4 is yet to be
accounted for.

The UN has been responsible for recruiting and training the
Timor-Leste Police Service (TLPS) and has handed over control to the
government in only five of the country's 13 districts-Ermera, Aileu,
Mantuto, Manufahi and Ainaro. A number of reports indicate that the
police, the Special Police Unit in particular, are widely despised.
The TLPS is accused of having former Indonesian police, militia
members and local thugs in its ranks....

Neither the UN, Portugal, Australia nor the East Timorese government
have announced any measures to deal with the underlying causes of the
unrest, which lie in the vast social chasm between a tiny well-off,
insulated elite and the vast majority of East Timorese. According to
UN estimates, half the population lives below the official poverty
line of just 50 US cents a day, and between 70 to 80 percent are

Just a week after the protests, 250 donor countries and organisations
gathered at a conference organised in Dili by the World Bank to
assess six months of East Timorese independence. While UN
representative Sharma described the conditions in Dili and Baucau
where unemployment stands at 43 percent, no new programs were
announced to attempt to alleviate the situation. The conference made
only two decisions: to release $US240,000 from the Trust Fund for
East Timor to help develop the country's oil and gas fields and a
paltry $US700,000 for education. Its major preoccupation was to
strengthen the police.

East Timor has no resources of its own to overcome the poverty facing
the population. The government had a budget of just $US74.2 million
for the year. The UN administration in East Timor had a budget for
the 2002/2003 financial year of four times that amount-$US316
million. More than one third of UN spending-$US134 million-has been
allocated to the cost of UN military personnel....


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