Local security and resilience in Dili, Timor-Leste

Type Book
Title Local security and resilience in Dili, Timor-Leste
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
Publisher Dili, Timor-Leste: RMIT University and The Asia Foundation
This report examines community views of security in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Based primarily
on a survey and short interviews with members of five communities across Dili in the first half of
2011, and a range of subsequent literature, the report provides an insight into different dimensions of
public perceptions of security. The themes covered include views of whether security has improved
in communities, how communities reproduce security in terms of both local and state authority
structures, as well as public views of engagement with security actors. These questions were
important to ask, not least given that Dili has endured several significant periods of intense violence
over its recent history, once at the end of the Indonesian occupation, and again from 2006 to 2008.
By 1999, attempts to integrate the former Portuguese colony into the nation of Indonesia had failed,
as demonstrated by the overwhelming vote in favour of independence for Timor-Leste on 30 August
of that year. The consequent violent withdrawal of the Indonesian armed forces and militia in 1999
left much of the material infrastructure of Dili destroyed, emptying the city almost entirely of its
population. The ‘sacking’ of Dili served both a symbolic and practical purpose, as destruction of the
capital in effect incapacitated the political centre of the new nation.1
More than 400,000 people
were forcibly displaced (Robinson 2003, 25), including to West Timor.2
The subsequent repatriation of
people to the devastated capital saw land and housing in Dili re-occupied, not only those homes that
had been vacated by Indonesians, but also those which had been owned by displaced East Timorese.
While riots in 2002,3
protests by veterans in 20044
, and large demonstrations led by the church in
each confirmed the capital as a potential space for different forms of political contestation,
the period known as ‘the crisis’ proved to be the most serious. Originating in a split in the armed
forces (F-FDTL), nearly 600 soldiers abandoned their barracks in early 2006 over accusations within
the military of discrimination of Loromonu (a term used to describe those from the Western districts
of the country) by Lorosa’e (those from the three eastern-most districts).6
In late March, multiple
disturbances reported in the capital were said to be assuming an ‘east versus west dynamic as youths
from both regions became embroiled in the petitioner issue’ (United Nations 2006, 22). Violence
erupted at the end of April with demonstrations staged outside Government Palace,7
and from this
point the security apparatus of the state largely disintegrated into competing factions.8
The homes of
military leaders and politicians were attacked,9
opposing factions engaged in a series of ambushes
against one another,10 and there was the massacre of police by members of the military in the middle
of Dili on 25 May.11 With ministers arming civilians12 the situation was spiralling out of control and an
Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) was deployed in an effort to contain the violence.13
The second UN Peace Keeping mission (UNMIT) mobilised on 25 August 2006, consisting of an
international police force (UNPOL) that assumed full command of national policing on 13 September
2006 (ICG 2006, 16, 18).
With the collapse of the police force and divisions in the military, communal violence erupted in Dili.14
Gang violence became pronounced, mirroring to a significant degree the ‘ethnic-territorial dimensions
of the Lorosa’e and Loromonu divisions in the military’ but was ‘also shaped by the interests of
political parties and the control of local urban territories by the gangs themselves’ (Grenfell 2009,
181). Attacks for control over land, houses and economic advantage were common,15 fuelled by
grievances as people returned following the 1999 violence (Harrington 2006, 2; Jutersonke et al 2010,
31). With widespread destruction of houses and government buildings, looting and the burning of key
markets and bus stations, parts of the capital became ‘no go’ zones as violence became increasingly
protracted (Brady 2006, 13; Jutersonke et al 2010, 31). Many within the capital fled their homes, the
city dotted with makeshift camps as people sought refuge in government buildings, schools, parks
and churches. Even the national airport housed tents to its front entrance. In total, some 150,000 4
people were displaced (IDPs) (Van de Auweraert 2012, 16). The 2007 national elections were held and
resulted in a new government, though it was not until February 2008 that the crisis reached a kind
of deadly conclusion with the attempted assassinations of President José Ramos-Horta and Prime
Minister Xanana Gusmão. This incident resulted in the death of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and the
subsequent declaration of a ‘state of siege’.16
The research for this report came at an important time in terms of gauging community perceptions of
security and levels of local patterns of resilience. By 2011, pressing issues relating to the 2006-2008
crisis had been largely resolved, at least in an immediate sense. The closure of the IDP camps,17 a
negotiated settlement with the petitioners, the diminished threat of armed groups, and the return
of policing control to the PNTL in March 2011,18 contributed to an increasing sense of stability in the
capital. While these events suggested the potential for an improved sense of security, the continuing
presence of the ISF served as a reminder that any improvement in general stability remained
underpinned, to a certain extent, by the presence of a foreign military force.
While there has been no repeat of the scale of violence which characterised the 2006-2008 crisis, and
the 2012 elections were managed largely in a context of peaceful political contestation, recent events
demonstrate the importance of understanding people’s responses to risks and threats, how authority
structures augment one another, and how people become aware of security related incidents. For
instance, across September and October 2013, Dili experienced a heightened period of insecurity due
to a spate of violent incidents.19 These had a tangible effect on the capital’s population, not just with
an increased security presence on the streets, but with a noticeable impact on mobility (especially in
the evenings). The concern in this report then is not just people’s physical security or the reallocation
of limited resources in terms of policing, but also a question of quality of life, especially given that
people often live with a high level of precariousness.

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