Subject: E. Timor's basket-case police force needs rebuilding: UN

also: ABC News: E Timor forces accused of 'beating up' civilians

The Australian Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Timor's basket-case police force needs rebuilding: UN

Mark Dodd

EAST Timor's police force is tribalised, corrupt, inadequately trained and has no public trust. A scathing UN report, obtained by The Australian, argues the force is politically manipulated, chronically mismanaged and massively underfunded.

And it warns a long-term commitment is needed by East Timor's international backers to repair the damage exacerbated by deadly inter-communal violence in 2006.

Australia -- East Timor's principal national security guarantor -- is expected to shoulder a significant part of the financial and training burden to rebuild the police force.

But experts warn there are few examples in the world of a successfully rebuilt police force when there is no stable democratic government.

The frailty of the force was underscored in February when army rebel Alfredo Reinado and armed supporters were involved in an alleged assassination attempt against Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and a separate attack that left President Jose Ramos Horta critically wounded.

During political violence in April and May 2006, which cost 38 lives, the East Timor police commander, his two deputies and senior officers deserted their posts, leading to the disintegration of the force. Since then, police training has been uncoordinated, with most officers failing to gain even a basic understanding of criminal or human rights law.

The UN report said political interference in the 3200-strong police force was rife. Of special concern, the report warned of a potential ``lack of political will to approve the needed changes'' to reform the police.

The UN report -- ``PNTL (police) Organisation, Strategic Plan for Reform, Restructuring and Rebuilding'' -- argues the force's problems range from a lack of a strategic development plan to basic logistics.

Security for most police buildings, ``in addition to their state of decay'', is ``non-existent''. Detention facilities are criticised as being in most cases sub-standard, failing to meet the basic minimum required by international human rights provisions of which East Timor is a signatory.

There is no functioning national police radio network to allow stations scattered across the remote mountainous half-island country to stay in touch, while most portable radio equipment lies in disrepair.

Police transport is pitiful. ``The current state of the PNTL vehicle fleet is indicative of the failure to have in place adequate vehicle maintenance and replacement programs,'' the report says.

Contact between police officers and court officials including judges and prosecutors is minimal, with many cases being resolved by ``traditional means''.

A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said the minister wanted to examine the report's findings before making a response.

Since 1999, Canberra has provided more than $500 million in aid to East Timor, including funding to rebuild and train the police force.

Respected national security expert Hugh White told The Australian a radical new approach was needed in rebuilding the East Timor police force. ``I think there are real grounds for asking whether the approach we are taking in East Timor ... is going to make any real difference. The fact is we don't have a model. There is no ready template that this is the way you build a police force when you don't have a decent government.''

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News April 7, 2008

E Timor forces accused of 'beating up' civilians

East Timor's armed forces are being accused of using violence against civilians as they hunt for rebel soldiers involved in February's attacks on the country's President and Prime Minister.

Almost two months after the attacks, reports from Dili confirm that many of those responsible for the attempted assassinations remain on the run.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped without injury but President Jose Ramos-Horta nearly died after being shot in the stomach in the February 11 attacks.

Hundreds of police and military have been searching countryside in Ermera district in the mountainous interior without success.

But as the hunt continues there have been a growing number of reports of violence against civilians by the military.

East Timorese MP and leader of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights, Fernanda Borges, says her constituents in Ermera have complained of beatings and aggressive interrogations by military personnel, who are seeking rebel leader Gastao Salsinha.

"There are questions like 'were you involved?' 'did you know him?' and sometimes when the answer is not to their liking they get beaten up," Ms Borges said.

Last month the Government acknowledged that inappropriate tactics had been used as part of the operation to locate the rebel attackers, and promised to investigate complaints of abuse.

It has also offered to give each of the 52 communities in Ermera which have complained a $US600 grant towards holding belated Easter parties, although on the condition that military and police officials be invited.

"We want the community to understand first that they should celebrate this Easter together with FFDTL and PNTL," said East Timor State Secretary for Security Francisco Gutteres.

"We would like them to understand that these two institutions are the state institutions that will protect them."

One community which will receive the grant is Erulu, a small mountain village in Ermera which is home to some of rebel leader Salsinha's family members.

Erulu village chief Lenilda Maia says the community has received an apology after a number of young people were physically abused by military personnel.

She says locals remain nervous, and are reluctant to begin the coffee harvest for fear of encountering military personnel or rebel troops.

She says if the problem is not resolved soon, the harvest will rot and crucial income will be lost.

However she says there is no guarantee an Easter party will restore damaged relations with the military.

"We don't really know if the money makes up for it, but we'll see after the party," she said.

Mr Gutteres says a number of military personnel have been suspended from active duty pending investigations, but says they will not be dismissed regardless of the investigation outcome.

"We will not dismiss these guys just because of a slap on people," he said.

Ms Borges says the military's response risks "fostering impunity".

"That is not a strong disciplinary measure, (and) that is not stating 'no-tolerance' to human rights violations," she said.

She has criticised the decision to offer communities money in return for forgiveness of abuse.

"They shouldn't start a practice of using money, because it's still very much an unprofessional force," she said.

Meanwhile United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill has praised East Timor for its response to the attempted assassinations.

On a visit to Dili, Mr Hill told reporters that the government had handled the crisis "pretty well".


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