Subject: Security handover raises concerns

TIMOR-LESTE: Security handover raises concerns

DILI, 5 September 2008 (IRIN) - Rosalina Soares has no idea who cut off her fingers. She also has machete scars across her upper back and neck. The middle-aged mother of two lost everything. Her home was destroyed ­ smashed and looted ­ and her body mutilated, but she has no idea why.

"The police know what happened to me, but they don't know who did it and I don't know who did it," Soares said. "The police took my photo, but I haven't heard anything more." She has no idea if the people who attacked her ever went to jail.

Two years later, Soares lives in a tent, one among hundreds across the street from the UN mission in Timor. She has lived here since 2006 when thousands of families fled their homes as gangs burned or simply ripped apart houses. During the worst of the attacks many police fled the city and security was handed over to the army, which failed to stem the violence.

After a call for international help, security forces poured in. Within months troops from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal were patrolling the beleaguered capital while UN police were tasked with the day-to-day security of the country.

As part of a deal signed with the government, control of the local police was given to UNPol so the UN police could mentor and certify local officers. That certification course is set to end early next year. If all goes as planned, by February local forces will resume power for the first time since before the crisis. By then the government expects the 30 remaining displacement camps to be empty and the country to be back to normal.

Yet many displaced people worry that without UNPol, things will get worse, not better.

At the Don Bosco compound, the largest displacement camp in the country, four elderly women discuss their experiences in 2006. Three had their homes torched and another said a gang of youths destroyed her home. Not one knows who to blame, or whether any of the perpetrators are in jail. Now that it is time to move back, they worry that the local police will not be able to protect them.

"We are just simple people," said one. "We have no idea if the police are any better or not. We hope they are. We would like better security." They say they are going home because their neighbourhood chief told them to.

But did he promise them security? "No, he just said come on back," said another woman.

About 41,000 people have returned but there have been cases of violence as neighbours reject the returnees in some areas.

Readiness in doubt

For the past two years the UN has been trying to get the local forces in shape, but doubts remain. Tony McLeod, UNPol's acting deputy commissioner of police operations, told IRIN he has been impressed with some efforts by the local police, but that they still have some way to go.

I cannot say that I'm 100 percent certain that the January 30 deadline will be met; however, we're still working toward that," McLeod said. "That's always been a challenging deadline in my opinion."

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao would not say whether the police would be ready for next year's handover, but he insisted it was time for local police to get back out on the streets ­ alone.

"I have to believe that the national police will be able to go it alone, but I also know I have to keep after them to get better," Gusmao told IRIN.


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