Technical Assistance to the National Dialogue Process in Timor-Leste

Type Report
Title Technical Assistance to the National Dialogue Process in Timor-Leste
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2007
Publisher The European Union’s Rapid Reaction Mechanism Programme
Since 2006 East Timor, the world’s youngest nation has been faced with a crisis of internal
conflict. During the course of the past year a deepening regional and social division has
become tangible (and violent on a larger scale) for the first time since independence. This
conflict or division was defined by animosities, distrust and eventually street fights between
people considered to be either of Lorosa’e (Eastern) or Loromonu (Western) region and
background. Violence erupted out of widespread perceptions that discrimination against
such regional groupings permeated state institutions, particularly in the security sector. From
here unrest spread and led to the large-scale displacement of parts of the population that is
still ongoing.
The most significant damage caused by this crisis was to the internal relationships that had
until then bound the country together. This damage still threatens relations between the
institutions of governance and those that they govern, as well as interpersonal relationships.
The legacy of a failure to adequately address and transform the current situation will be fear
and mistrust, providing fertile ground for future conflict in East Timor and hindering the
processes of nation-building often considered to have been successful up until the crisis.
What has been neglected though is that - while the economic indicators were positive - less
tangible processes of cultural transformation and identity politics, in particular the (non-
)formation of a shared national identity, were given little consideration and effort thus far.
Meanwhile recent government-sponsored dialogue and peace-making initiatives by
international actors present in East Timor have shown little impact on the sentiments and
root causes underlying the eruption of violence last year. In particular, there has been little
effect on countering the trend of a deepening social divide between Lorosa’e and Loromonu
that is evolving into a kind of ‘ethnic polarisation’ of regional and social distinctions, which -
though historically developed during colonial times and surfacing at different moments inbetween
- had previously not been violent on any large scale. The study set out to explore
why any measures tried until now to address and resolve the conflict and transform
sentiments have not worked well. Many causal factors - political, economic, and legal - have
been mentioned in previous research, but one facet has remained underexplored: gaining a
deeper understanding of local cultural understandings and views of the crisis as well as local
ideas for processes of resolution and long-term transformation. At the core of the Lorosa’e -
Loromonu conflict, respondents stated, is a fundamental discord that pinpoints some of the
faultlines present in current processes of social change in East Timor since independence.
Such faultlines refer to the fluidity and tension between modern-traditional; urban-rural;
elder-youth; migrant-local; and not least between the world views and values at stake. For
instance, much of the rural population finds that at the core of the new regional conflict is an
imbalance between the physical-material and the spiritual-ancestral worlds. Hence, the study
describes in detail some of the local ideas and conceptions of conflict as well as enduring,
age-old structures and practices of conflict management, resolution and prevention in East
Based on the ideas of respondents in seven districts and an appraisal of two recent peace
initiatives in Dili, the study then proposes the careful and considerate use of traditional
Timorese concepts and practices such as Nahe Biti Bo’ot [a traditional dialogue process]
and Juramentu [a blood oath to seal a settlement or agreement] in future peace processes
aimed at transforming the Lorosa’e - Loromonu conflict in the long-term.

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