Subject: SMH: Armed Wing of E Timor Struggle Must Now Win the Peace

Sydney Morning Herald February 9, 2000

Armed wing of the struggle must now win the peace

By TOM FAWTHROP in Aileu, East Timor

In the mountains south of Dili, UN military observers have noticed new, younger faces arriving in the Aileu cantonment of the East Timorese national liberation army, Falintil.

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

The old generation of war-weary fighters, who have fought in the mountains ever since 1975, have returned to their families.

But Commander Lere, the deputy chief of staff, makes it plain Falintil will not be disbanded.

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

As Falintil seeks to redefine its mission - seeking greater participation in the defence of the territory in co-ordination with UN peacekeepers, and building a new army - some UN officials are concerned the transformation may conflict with the UN's mandate, which includes the recruitment and training of a professional army after the "demobilisation of all irregular forces".

Brigadier-General Rezaquil Haider, the UN chief of military observers in East Timor, said it was too early to take decisions about a future army.

"The Falintil army is very different from a conventional army. These kind of changes cannot be achieved overnight."

The New Zealand Defence Minister, Mr Mark Burton, who recently visited East Timor, held talks with the Falintil chief of staff, Commander Taur Matan Ruak, in Aileu and was impressed by the commander's commitment to nation-building.

Falintil sees this month's handover by Interfet of all peace-keeping operations to the UN as a chance to press its claims for an active role in national security and policing.

"I am concerned about infiltration from the [Indonesian- backed] militias, and it is better if Falintil is working with UN peacekeepers to prevent this," Commander Lere said.

"Falintil is very capable to do this work. We know the people, the population. We can support UNTAET in providing security.

"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 UN military observer said a bigger role for Falintil could be negotiated. Under the present Interfet mandate, Falintil cannot carry arms outside their cantonment zone so some defacto regular status would be required.

Until now, Falintil has accepted a largely passive role, although some guerilla units have provided Interfet with intelligence on militia activities along the border with West Timor.

Whether East Timor will have an army or just a small presidential guard is an open question.

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

A UN military expert from New Zealand said he did not oppose Falintil's recruitment drive.

"If they are taking young unemployed people off the street and giving them some discipline and training, that is something positive," he said.

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