Subject: AGE: New police chief arrives to credibility crisis

New police chief arrives to credibility crisis

By Jill Jolliffe

Dili June 27 2003

Australian Federal Police officer Sandra Peisley arrived in Dili this week with the unenviable task of commanding UNPOL, the troubled United Nations police force criticised by East Timorese and expatriates alike.

She succeeds Canadian commissioner Peter Miller, whose unpopularity was such that he spent his last months here under heavy personal guard.

"I don't believe this appointment will change things," said the parliamentary leader of the governing Fretilin party, Francisco Branco. "UNPOL was well regarded before, but it has been discredited since the riots last December. The population trusted it to protect them, but it failed. Reform is needed."

Ms Peisley joined the force in Canberra in 1974. She served with the UN's Cyprus mission in 1994 and is an assistant commissioner in the AFP.

AFP officer Allan Mills led UN police to East Timor in 1999.

Ms Peisley arrived to new stirrings of instability, expressed in a spate of nationwide attacks by martial arts practitioners.

UNPOL's Dili commander, Antonio Silva, said on Monday that similar attacks had preceded last year's riots, and police feared "an external influence". Mobs of up to 30 youths armed with iron bars and samurai swords have injured seven people in recent Dili attacks, some seriously.

UNPOL has two agreed functions in independent East Timor: final responsibility for internal security (resented as an infringement of sovereignty by some Timorese), and the training of a local police force to replace it, set for next January.

Question marks over its capabilities on both counts came to a head after renegade Filipino officer Nick Torre opened a tell-all web page before leaving East Timor a week ago. Mr Torre had worked as a counter-insurgency specialist in Mindanao and warned that Dili was "a breeding ground for insurgency".

UNPOL's failure to learn from the riots, which left two dead and buildings burnt, could lead to tragedy, he told The Age. Shoddy training of local police was creating "a police like Kopassus", the feared Indonesian special forces, rather than one with popular support, he said. Allegations of East Timorese police beatings are increasingly common.

A UN official in Dili who asked not to be named backed Mr Torre's assessment. He said the UN had failed "to improve training or to develop the police force as a viable entity. UN headquarters continues to send street cops to East Timor at immense cost, but will not send experts who can actually do something about building the police force."

As UNPOL's handover draws near, all eyes, including critical Timorese eyes, will be on Sandra Peisley's handling of the credibility crisis.

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