Groups, gangs, and armed violence in Timor-Leste

Type Journal Article - TLAVA Issue Brief
Title Groups, gangs, and armed violence in Timor-Leste
Issue 2
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
On 11 February 2008 Major Alfredo Reinado
and a group of ex-F-FDTL1
soldiers known
as the Petitioners, accompanied by allied
members, attacked the residence
of President Jose Ramos Horta in Dili. Th e
president, returning home from jogging, was
shot and seriously wounded; security offi cers
killed Reinado and one of his men. Less
than two hours later, Prime Minister Xanana
Gusmão’s motorcade came under fi re from
a group led by Petitioner leader Lieutenant
Gastão Salsinha.
Th e shock of these coordinated attacks
ended a brief respite from gang violence that
had plagued the country through December
2007. Reinado was known as a key player
in a wider network of gangs, political front
groups, and patronage groups within the
political elite. Although the Petitioners
had been a destabilizing force in Timorese
politics and society for two years, the threat
was not well anticipated.
Armed groups and gangs are not a new
phenomenon in Timor-Leste, but evolved
from clandestine resistance groups
during the Indonesian colonial period to
a heterogeneous multitude of collectives,
including disaff ected veterans, clandestine
groups, political fronts, martial arts groups
(MAGs), village-based gangs, youth
collectives, and security organizations.
Nine years aft er the end of the Indonesian
occupation, the fact that gangs have
diversifi ed and multiplied is a testament to a
range of social tensions in Timorese society
and the continued weakness of the state and
its institutions. During the occupation these
groups protected their communities from
Indonesian security forces and the latter’s
proxies; now they protect their communities
from one another.

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