Subject: East Timor's new rebels

East Timor's new rebels

09/26/2002 04:08:36 Asia Intelligence Wire


A new breed of militants is posing a threat to security in East Timor. SETH ROBSON reports. . `Kill the police" were the only words part-time soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Greg Hart, could understand, as he faced an angry mob of East Timorese dissidents.

The Christchurch financial adviser and former commander of the Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast Territorial Regiment was travelling along a dark road in the Cova Lima District in July when his vehicle was forced off the road by an on-coming truck. The part-time soldier looked in amazement as dozens of East Timorese in military uniforms poured off the back of the truck that had stopped about 10m away.

The men were members of Combat Association 75 (CA75), one of several "issue-motivated groups" gaining in popularity amongst disaffected East Timorese.

When the group approached, Lieutenant Colonel Hart and his companion, Staff Sergeant John Hinton, got out of their vehicle, and drew their weapons.

"I saw them pouring off the back of this wagon, and they started charging. All you could see was militia uniforms, swords, and machetes. They were all yelling "kill the police", and there was a whole lot of Tetun (the local language) being yelled."

The group was angry, because one of their members had been arrested a few days earlier at the market in Suai.

"They were heading to the police station to break him out. I reckon they thought we were a police vehicle, and they were going to try and take us hostage," Lieutenant Colonel Hart said.

After a tense stand-off, the group backed off, getting back in their vehicle and heading for the Suai police station. When they got there they rammed the gates, then threw rocks at the police station, and at United Nations vehicles in the compound. There were threats to kill the people in the police station.

NZ Batt 6's Fijian Company sent out an immediate reaction force of soldiers, who placed themselves between the rioters and the police. But the situation was not defused until the arrested man was conditionally released.

Later that day, New Zealand soldiers detained 44 men and 22 women. Hidden weapons, but no firearms, were found, along with military clothing.

The ringleaders were shipped out to Dili for further questioning.

Lieutenant Colonel Hart said support for groups such as CA75 was fuelled by unemployment, and lack of infrastructure in East Timor. New Zealand peacekeepers were involved in community projects and training programmes, that would help alleviate the causes of unrest, he said.

"Our main concern was that we were leaving in November. We didn't want to create a dependency, which is a real problem throughout the world in peace- keeping operations. "We didn't want to leave a vacuum, where everything just stopped as soon as we left and you saw the foundations for future strife."

As Senior Liaison Officer with Batt 6 Lieutenant Colonel Hart kept in contact with other peacekeeping forces, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and local authorities.

"When we arrived the battalion was starting to do projects for the local community. Rather than just get aid money for them from NGOs and build wells, we would teach the East Timorese how to get the aid money, get the supplies, and build the wells themselves." The battalion drew on the civilian skills of territorial soldiers to help the locals through education programmes that included conflict resolution, running a meeting, mechanical skills, and teaching skills.

Making the locals more self-reliant was difficult because the East Timorese did not have a culture of running things themselves.

"Other people have been running East Timor for 400 years. The locals don't have the experience of being the boss."

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