Subject: DPA: Old guard guerrillas give way to new generation

Deutsche Presse-Agentur February 4, 2000

FEATURE: Old guard guerrillas give way to new generation in East Timor By Tom Fawthrop

Dili, East Timor

In the mountains south of the capital Dili, U.N. military observers have noticed new, younger faces arriving in the Aileu cantonment camp of the Timorese national liberation army known as Falintil.

After 24 years of fighting the Indonesian army of occupation. East Timor is now free and the independence struggle is over.

The old generation of Falintil, the war-weary fighters who can remember the Portuguese days, fighting in the mountains ever since 1975, have eagerly returned to their families and civilian life.

But Commander Lere, the deputy chief of staff, made clear that the Falintil army will not be disbanded.

"Our aim is to continue to serve the people," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "Older people are giving way to younger people. We are restructuring our forces. Yes, we are recruiting younger people. Older people are leaving but many young people want to join Falintil."

Falintil, the armed wing of the Timorese National Resistance Council (CNRT) has started to redefine its mission as greater participation in the defence of the territory in coordination with U.N. peacekeeping units, and the building of a new post-independence army.

But military chiefs serving in East Timor under the U.N. mission have not come to any conclusions about the future defence needs of an independent East Timor.

As a resistance guerilla army, Falintil's leadership has commanded wide respect. On Wednesday the New Zealand defence minister, Mark Burton, visited the guerilla cantonment barracks in Aileu and held talks with Falintil's chief of staff, 43-year-old Commander Taur Matan Ruak.

Burton said he was "deeply impressed by the commander's commitment to nation-building, his interest in education and infrastructure. We talked more about these matters than military affairs."

Falintil leaders see the February changeover - with the Interfet multinational peacekeeping force that brought a rapid deployment to the devastated territory last September now giving way to a U.N. peacekeeping command - as a good opportunity to negotiate a more active role for their forces.

At his Aileu office headquarters, the deputy chief of staff announced that "we will propose that we have a policing role and we must also be allowed to carry our arms, as we did during the last 24 years."

A senior U.N. military observer commented that "I think a bigger role for Falintil could be a matter for negotiation. The leadership is extremely well-respected. But whether we can allow them to carry arms is another question. The Interfet mandate specified disarmament of all irregular forces. So Falintil can only carry arms outside their cantonment zone if they are given some de facto regular status."

Whether East Timor in the future will have an fully-fledged army or just a small presidential guard is still regarded by the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) as an open question.

A senior U.N. official said he considered that financing anything more than a 1,000 or so soldiers would be a major tax burden on the world's newest nation.

At one time independence leader Xanana Gusmao advocated no standing army at all, but militia threats along the border and the vulnerability of the Oecussi enclave convinced him that "we have to assure our people we are ready if necessary to defend our country."

Chief of staff Commander Ruak wants five companies of the resistance army - around 1,000 soldiers - to be integrated into any new army set up by UNTAET.

Academic George Aditjondro is among those who doubt that the leadership is ready to accept the depoliticisation of Falintil, given deeply-emotional historical ties to the Fretilin party.

There are fears that a revolutionary Falintil army will duplicate the same mistakes in other parts of the world where the heroes of the independence struggle - as in Angola, Mozambique and Vietnam - later became instruments of authoritarian rule.

Falintil officer Filomena de Jesus commented that "we are aware of these mistakes, and we have learned from them. We respect the democratic process and Falintil's new army will be educated to accept this."

The U.N. does not assume full control over peacekeeping until the end of February. Then they will have to make difficult decisions about the relations between the 8,300-strong peacekeeping forces and the estimated 1,400 Falintil guerrillas.

The departing Interfet commander, General Peter Cosgrove, said he is optimistic. "Falintil should be honoured and engaged," he said. "They deserve respect. It is a two-way process. The U.N. can't just brush them aside. An honourable compromise can be reached." dpa tf jh

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