Subject: Falantil heroes still fighting for a future in E. Timor

The Australian 28 June 2000

Falantil heroes still fighting for a future

By South-East Asia correspondent PETER ALFORD

NINE months after liberation, more than 1000 Falantil guerillas remain camped in wretched conditions around the mountain township of Aileu, still waiting for a decision on their role “ if any “ in the new East Timor.

Earlier this month Xanana Gusmao, still Falantil's titular commander, had to intervene to enforce an order to a dissident group to disarm and disperse from the Aileu cantonment, about 15km south of Dili.

It shows Falantil's remarkable discipline that there has only been one such incident. The same discipline in September kept them from attacking rampaging militiamen, a move which would have exposed thousands of refugees under Falantil protection to Indonesian army retaliation.

But Gusmao and UN Transitional Authority in East Timor chief Sergio Vieira de Mello acknowledge the future of the guerillas, some of whom have been in the hills since the 1975 Indonesian invasion, must soon be settled.

"Those men up there waiting with their weapons in Aileu are a source of demoralisation and anger that has to be addressed," says an UNTAET official. "Falantil sees itself as a force that gained the victory but has never even had a victory parade."

It is a multiple quandary. An influential group within Gusmao's CNRT (National Council for Timorese Resistance) believes an independent East Timor doesn't need a standing defence force.

The alternative for security tasks like protecting the border with West Timor would be be a lightly armed police field force, or gendarmerie.

And, whichever option is chosen, security analysts and many within UNTAET doubt the new nation could financially support an army or paramilitary force of 1000 or more men. (About 500 Falantil have left their weapons and uniforms at Aileu and gone home.) There are provisions in UNTAET's operating budget for the territory for the next 12 months to employ 850 police and security guards, but no military personnel. Yet a decision will have to be taken soon.

A team of military and policing experts commissioned by London's King's College is currently preparing a report for UNTAET on the security force options.

The East Timorese have informally canvassed with Canberra the need for Australian Defence Force trainers to develop the indigenous security force and received positive response. The cost could be accommodated within the $2.27 billion projected ADF expenditures on East Timor over the next four years.

However, Australian Defence Studies Centre visiting fellow and former Australian Army lieutenant-colonel Bob Lowry says it is essential to first "take a very hard, pragmatic look at the minimum they can get away with".

"That, in my view, is a police field force component “ platoon or company level, at the most “ to maintain control of the border areas and to control any armed gangs that might form themselves within East Timorese territory," Mr Lowry said. "From the viewpoint of economic rationality, you can't have a situation where the new state creates public services and military forces which are not sustainable and could, in fact, cause the collapse of the state in the future."

East Timor is also expected to seek Australian assistance for a light patrol boat fleet to police its offshore waters.

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