Subject: ABC: East Timor aims to mend relationship with people

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East Timor aims to mend relationship with people

Updated 11 hours 34 minutes ago

Almost two months since the attacks on East Timor's leaders and many of the rebels responsible remain on the run. But as the search continues, allegations of human rights violations towards citizens by the security forces continue to emerge.

Presenter: Stephanie March

Speaker: Fernanda Borges, East Timorese MP and the leader of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights; Francisco Gutteres, State Secretary for Security; Lenilda Maia, Village Chief in Erulu, Ermera district.

MARCH: In Ermera district in East Timor's mountainous interior, hundreds of police and military roam the countryside, searching for the rebels who remain on the run, following the attacks on the country's President and Prime Minster on February 11.

As the hunt continues, reports of violence against civilians by the military continue to emerge.

East Timorese MP and the leader of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights Fernanda Borges says her constituents in Ermera have complained of beatings and aggressive interrogations by the FFDTL military about the whereabouts of rebel leader Gastao Salsinha.

BORGES: 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.

MARCH: Late last month the government acknowledged that the military had on occasion used inappropriate and heavy handed tactics as part of the operation, and said the would investigate any claims of human rights abuses.

In an effort to renew peoples confidence in the security institutions, the government and joint police and military command are now giving each of the 52 affected communities in Ermera 600 US dollar for them to hold belated Easter parties to which they must invite military and police.

Francisco Gutteres is East Timor's State Secretary for Security.

GUTTERES: The money is used for the celebration of the Easter. The idea that we gave to the community is we want the community to understand - first that they should celebrate this Easter together with FFDTL and PNTL. The objective is that we would like them to understand that these two institutions are the state institutions that will protect them.

Lenilda Maia is the village chief of Erulu, a small mountain community in Ermera district and the home of some of rebel leader Gastao Salsinha's family members.

Erulu is one of the communities receiving $600 from the government to hold a party with the security forces.

She says some of the youth in her area have been slapped around by the military for not answering questions, but she has heard of more serious abuses in other parts of the district.

She says the head of the Military and Police joint operation Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak recently apologised to the communities for the abuses.

MAIA: Yes they are beating up people and the government apologised. Taur Matan Ruak sent a saying he was sorry to the youth who got beaten when the armed forces were here. There were some youth who gave incorrect information to the F-FDTL and they got beaten, that's why he sent a message here that invited the youth to join a party together with the armed forces.

MARCH: Lenilda Maia says the military presence makes people nervous, and the people are too scared to go to the coffee fields and start harvesting because they don't want to come across any military personnel or rebels.

She fears if the problem is not resolved soon the coffee beans will rot on the trees, and everyone will lose the income from the crops that they desperately need to survive and that moat people hope that Gastao Salsinha and his followers surrender to authorities soon so the FFDTL go away.

She says she is not sure if the belated Easter party will restore the damaged relations between the FFDTL and her community

MAIA: We don't really know if the money makes up for it but will see after the party. We invite the FFDTL to come to say a few words to the youth as well as to the mothers and fathers who have suffered because the situation has not been calm.

MARCH: The government says they are trying to get the military to change their behaviour.

The joint command has appealed to victims of beating or assaults by soldiers to come forward so their cases can be investigated.

State Secretary for Security Francisco Gutteres says several military personnel have been suspended from active duties pending investigations, but regardless of the investigation outcome, they will not dismissed from the military.

GUTTERES: Maybe a small kind of human rights abuse maybe there will be disciplinary action against them but we will not dismiss these guysjust because of a slap on people.

MARCH: But MP Fernanda Borges says that's not good enough.

BORGES: That's just fostering impunity. That is not strong disciplinary measure. That is not stating no tolerance to human rights violations.

MARCH: But Francisco Gutteres says its important not to let the small number of human rights abuses overshadow the achievements of the Joint Operation.

There has been an ongoing feud between East Timor's police and military since 2006 when claims of ethnic discrimination in the two institutions plunged the country into crisis.

GUTTERES: Because you can see after the two years crisis they have been fighting, in 2006, now they are working together providing security. This is one of the major achievements we will have. So we have to give them some kind of appreciation that they have done a good job, the were not tempted to get involved in fighting again.

MARCH: But MP Fernanda Borges says there are still major disciplinary problems within both forces, and throwing money at communities to forgive their failings is inappropriate, and unsustainable.

BORGES: That is the wrong approach to policing and security issues. Money should not be involved in the work of security people they shouldn't start a practice of doing things like that - using money - because it's still very much and unprofessional force. The defence force and the police very much need to be professionalised as well as brought under some disciplinary standards

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