Subject: East Timor's Government to regulate martial arts groups

ABC Online

PM - East Timor's Government to regulate martial arts groups

PM - Friday, 6 February , 2009 18:34:00

Reporter: Zoie Jones

MARK COLVIN: Ten years ago this year East Timor voted for independence, and then was torn apart in violence fomented by Indonesia.

A decade later, the country remains unstable; there's high unemployment and poverty, and there are still refugee camps full of people afraid to go home. Many young East Timorese, who believed independence would transform their country, are wondering what went wrong.

Some have joined gangs formed out of martial arts clubs. The problem is so widespread that the Timorese Government is legislating to regulate the martial arts clubs and stop the gangs.

And now an Australian woman is at the centre of efforts to get youth gangs in Dili to put down their weapons and work towards stability.

Zoie Jones went to Dili to compile this report.

ZOIE JONES: Comoro is the district near Dili's airport. It was here in 2006 that young people high on cheap homebrew were lured into the clashes between regional factions of the armed forces.

LEILANI UJVARI: Really extreme violence particularly between youth gangs and martial arts groups.

ZOIE JONES: Leilani Ujvari co-founded the organisation Ba Futuru which means "for the future". The aid group has built a youth centre which includes the country's first skate park.

LEILANI UJVARI: The location of the youth centre was chosen because it's specifically in the middle of a disputed area where a lot of the youth gangs were fighting.

ZOIE JONES: Vidal Campos Magno helps run the skate park and deals with some of the gang members.

VIDAL CAMPOS MAGNO: They fight each other, attack each other.

ZOIE JONES: Do people die?

VIDAL CAMPOS MAGNO: Yeah, in the past. In the past people died because of the martial arts.

ZOIE JONES: Many of the gangs are break-away groups formed out of the much larger martial arts clubs - which are a legacy of the Indonesian occupation. With almost 80 per cent of the population aged under 25 and an unemployment rate as high as 50 per cent there's a vast pool of disaffected young people for the gangs to recruit from.

Leilani Ujvari again.

LEILANI UJVARI: There was a lot of pent up disappointment because people had assumed that independence would bring freedom and prosperity and development and opportunity, and that to a large extent didn't happen and it particularly didn't happen for young people.

ZOIE JONES: One of the biggest martial arts clubs is the Devoted Heart Lotus Brotherhood, and its members wear black. Another is known as 77.

Such is the problem with gang violence stemming from these clubs, that Kung-Fu star Jackie Chan visited East Timor last year on a goodwill mission organised by the United Nations.

He urged the groups to continue their martial arts training but not to turn to gang violence. Today, there's a group of young girls at the skate park learning a traditional dance. Sitting nearby is a man in his early twenties.

He doesn't want to talk, and instead plays his guitar. HELIO ROBERTO DIAS: He's from 77, I know him. Before he come here bringing the knife, he said I'm looking for my enemies here.

ZOIE JONES: Helio Roberto Dias works at the youth centre.

HELIO ROBERTO DIAS: And the second time I asked him to come but please don't bring any weapons like knives or stones or stick or something like that. And the next time he's coming here, drunk. And I asked him; if you drunk, don't come to this place, go back. Then the next time he said mon Helio which means brother Helio, I want to come.

ZOIE JONES: Is he still a member of the 77 gang?

HELIO ROBERTO DIAS: Yes he is still a member but I see in here he change his attitude. During two or three months. He changed. I can see in here he's changed. But at his place I don't know. In here I can see that he's changed.

ZOIE JONES: Ba Futuru may have at least one success story. But despite ten years of nation building; there are many other young East Timorese still without an education or a job.

Aware of the risks, the President Jose Ramos Horta has called on governments and donors to help build youth centres in every district in Timor by the end of next year to provide some hope for Timor's young people.

Leilani Ujvari again.

LEILANI UJVARI: All they've seen is violence; they've seen destruction, they've seen Indonesians withdraw in the wake of the independence ballot and destroy all the roads, all the infrastructure, everything.

MARK COLVIN: Leilani Ujvari in Dili ending that report from Zoie Jones.


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