Subject: SMH: Guerilla veterans transformed into regular recruits

Sydney Morning Herald 

Friday, February 2, 2001

Guerilla veterans transformed into regular recruits

New role ... former Falintil commander Taur Matan Ruak, shown here in a file photo with Xanana Gusmao, celebrating Gusmao's return to East Timor. Photo: John Feder

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Aileu

The Falintil guerilla force yesterday became the world's newest internationally recognised army - the East Timor Defence Force.

At their mountain headquarters in mist-shrouded Aileu, an emotionally charged ceremony marked the official striking of the colours of a guerilla force that had once waged one of the world's most enduring battles for independence.

"The mission of the ETDF is to guarantee the defence of our homeland, of the new sovereign state of Timor, fully respecting the new democratic institutions and the political representatives democratically elected by our people," said the equally new army commander, Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak.

The former Falintil commander, who until one month ago sported a shoulder-length ponytail, paused frequently during his speech and appeared overcome by emotion.

"Together we liberated our homeland - together we will defend our homeland. For the future, viva the defence force of East Timor, viva Falintil," he shouted.

Addressing the massed ranks of several hundred soldiers, all recruited from Falintil, General Ruak said the legacy of the Falintil freedom fighters was now enshrined within the new army.

Mr Xanana Gusmao, the independence leader and former Falintil commander, was moved to tears when the Falintil flag was struck and presented to him as a gift.

In his speech, Mr Gusmao paid homage to the fallen heroes of Falintil's 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia.

"The commanders present here today and those who died during the war are the true heroes," he said.

"The structure of the clandestine network was the intelligent and astute central cog in the machine of struggle. They became masters in the art of waging guerilla war while living side by side with the enemy."

The first batch of 650 recruits drawn from 1,700 Falintil veterans will soon start 12 weeks of basic training conducted by Portugal. Specialist training will be undertaken by Australia, which will lend the ETDF 300 M-16A1 assault rifles.

The ETDF will consist of a light infantry force comprising 1,500 regulars and 1,500 reservists, to be recruited over the next three years.

A special fund worth $US2million ($3.6 million) has been established to provide income support and vocational training to an estimated 1,000 Falintil veterans who will be demobilised.

The head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, described yesterday's ceremony as a milestone in the transition to independence.

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