Wednesday, September 3, 2008

33 years on, E Timor military struggling to find feet

As East Timor's defence force celebrates its 33rd anniversary, analysts say it will take time to build the force's strength.

The transition from resistance fighters to professional soldiers has not been easy.
Falintil started out in 1975 as the military wing of the Fretilin resistance group, surviving in the jungle for 25 years as it tried to fight off occupying Indonesian forces.
Since East Timor gained independence in 1999, the now-called Falintil-FDTL has been trying to establish itself as the nation's official armed forces.
Julio Tomas Pinto, the State Secretary for Defence, says it needs time.
"We just have seven years after independence and if we compare with other countries we see that our military now needs to develop again in discipline," he said.
Tensions between the military and police flared in 2006, when hundreds of soldiers abandoned their barracks in protest over discrimination, and plunged the country into a bloody crisis.
But in February this year, those same forces surprised everyone by banding together under operation 'Halibur', meaning 'gather', in a bid to catch the rebels responsible for shooting President Jose Ramos-Horta.
Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Ferndale, the chief of the Australian Defence Cooperation Program in East Timor, told Radio Australia the evidence from operation Halibur is that the force has settled down since 2006.
"They have a large rebuilding process to go through," he said.
"Obviously they lost a lot of people who walked out in 2006 and they are in the process now of commencing a recruitment program.
"Those recruits will go someway towards re-establishing the force to the size it was."
Anna Powles, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in East Timor, agrees that establishing a fully functioning force takes time.
"Of course FFDTL will need time to develop, will need time to ensure that there's a culture of non partisanship, ensure that there are clear and impartial procedures within the military, ensure that it does not become politicised and that there is no discrimination within the military," she said.
While some authorities in East Timor commended both the PNTL police force and FFDTL military for their ability to work together during the hunt for the rebels, some groups are still concerned.
The provedore for human rights received dozens of complaints from civilians against the security forces during the state of siege following the attack on President Ramos-Horta.
A recent United Nations report has confirmed several incidents where members of the military threatened UN police with weapons.
Ms Powles says it is important to remember that it is only elements of the force that are causing problems.
"As to what it necessarily reveals about those elements in FFDTL perhaps suggests a level of 'gungho-ness' and perhaps reflects a degree of a lack of discipline," she said.
"It is again something internally that the F-FDTL needs to resolve." (
Picture, Since East Timor gained independence, the Falintil-FDTL has been trying to establish itself as the nation's official armed forces. (Reuters: Lirio Da Fonseca)

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