Enforcing UN Mandates in post conflict environment: East Timor
UN Mandates are complex exercise of diplomacy. While they must address the major failings that stop nascent nation-states to realize their goals, they have to be sensitive to the issues of sovereignty, self-determination and local ownership of road ahead especially in the area of security sector reform. A mandate that puts too much on UN’s platter is bound to suffer from local refrain if not outright rejection. On the other hand a mandate that fails to address underlying issues responsible for conflict or its recurrence, would end up being lame duck and invite derision for the UN from both the international donors and stakeholders and from the beneficiary nation-state. Indeed many of the UN missions have been in such a quandary despite best intentions of the Security Council or the efforts of the peacekeepers on ground. It is in this light that we shall examine the case of tackling violence perpetrated by illegally armed groups in Timor Leste. Timor Leste is world’s newest country to emerge from the scourge of colonialism. In fact its small size both in terms of area and population has been a bane on country’s efforts to self determination. Just about when 400 years of Portuguese suzerainty was overcome in 1975, its sovereignity was again undermined by full scale Indonesian occupation which continued till 1999. Circle of freedom movement including fierce guerrilla movement was rerun causing incalculable loss of life and livlihood.
East Timor: Pre UNMIT scenario:
It is therefore a bitter truth that in the living memory violence has always had a phenomenal impact on socio-political being of East Timor. While the renewed fight for independence was not lacking in commitment, the resistance movement against Indonesian occupation after exit of Portuguese somehow lacked a pan-national character. It instead took the form of martial arts groups or youth groups which had a local character but provided cover to guerrilla fighters. There was also a distinctly east-west chasm, though often denied by leaders. The martial art groups often transformed into gangs when radical elements ruled roost or remained committed to the martial arts when leadership was puritan. It is fair to say that employability of the youth at a particular time decided the dominant tenor of the group. Post independence these groups were almost entirely martial arts oriented but once it became evident that jobs or employment opportunities were to remain limited, the gang nature of the groups again surfaced and by mid 2003 most groups were engaged in increasing their local influence in order to extract protection money from traders and simply extortion from locals.
UNTAET, the transitional administration under UN while brought in national institutions like Parliament and Presidency, could not fully address the issue of an equitable distribution of offices or government jobs, especially the recruitment to the police and the army, between easterners and westerners. Youth unemployment, often estimated as nearly 70%, brought the disaffection to the open in the form of youth gangs in the capital Dili (population 200,000) and major population centers. Members of the gangs were strewn all over the civil society and also had considerable influence in the echelons of the government due to the fact that almost all government servants had an association with one or the other MAG at some stage or other. The long and short of it is that by the beginning of the year 2006 the fault lines were there for anyone to see both within the government and in the populous neighborhoods and bairos.
Regional affiliations led to disintegration of army (culminating with partisan dismissal of 594 soldiers in March 2006 and followed by desertion of almost entire military police under Maj Alfredo Reinado as a show of solidarity with the dismissed soldiers) and the police ( In Dilli after the May 25, 2006 shootout by armed soldiers resulting in death of 9 unarmed policemen) at institutional level between January and June 2006 and simultaneous gang violence on streets led to large scale arson especially in Dili leading to razing down of hundreds of homes and high profile public and commercial institutions. Thereafter a state of fluidity prevailed. With ministers and prime minister having resigned, Government practically ceasing to govern and the new UN mission, UNMIT still in a nascent stage, the street violence intensified as and loyalties of individuals to different allegiances-a political party, a martial arts group, a clandestine group, or a bairo based local gang led to virtual internecine war to control socio-political-commercial turf in Dili and districts.
UNPOL and the mandate:
The UNPOL which came in armed with interim law enforcement responsibility also referred to as an executive policing mandate, was immediately faced with unprecedented gang violence which had been responsible for nearly 60 murders and burning down of thousands of houses and establishments from January 06-January 07. “Supplemental police arrangement” signed on 1st December 2006 between Government of East Timor and UNMIT set the following mandate for the UNPOL:
1.Restoration and maintenance of Public security through provision of support to PNTL including interim law enforcement and until PNTL is reconstituted.
2. Assist in planning and preparing Electoral related security Arrangements to adequately prepare National Police for 2007 elections.
3. Institutional development and strengthening of PNTL including the Ministry of Interior through a comprehensive Reform-Restructure-Rebuild-Development plan (RRRD).
Compared to UN Police mandates else where, only Kosovo (UNMIK) had a more sweeping mandate being backed by transitional administration. Haiti (MINUSTAH} and Liberia were a shade less encompassing in that the UN police did not assume interim law enforcement responsibility but was to a provide robust back up support to national police in order to “stabilize” the situation. East Timor mandate was half way between UNMIK and MINUSTAH. While executive policing mandate was necessary due to disintegration of national police in Dili, the Supplemental arrangement brought UN Police Commissioner in a line relationship with the Minister of Interior and he therefore had two bosses, the SRSG and the minister. This was of course not the same as in the first UN mandate in East Timor where transitional administration backed up the executive policing responsibility and had made the UNTAET all in all. However on the other hand it is not fair to have expected an encore as an elected government was in place and divesting it of any more responsibility would indicate at the very least return of UN suzerainty.
This mandate should however not be confused with UNMIT mandate which has a bigger scope including Security sector reform whose canvas includes army as well and development of civil society through multi-agency intervention and donor support. But for the purpose of this paper we shall stick to the tasks set out in the supplemental arrangement as they were a sine qua non for meeting the broader mission mandate and addressing the immediate issue at hand: restoration of peace by neutralizing gang violence and holding Presidential and Parliamentary elections. For at the end of 2006 with the runaway gang led violence manifested by widespread arson and murders, holding three back to back Presidential and Parliamentary elections had seemed a pipe dream and there was already a talk of putting them off till return of normalcy. Senior management of the UNMIT however was steadfast in its belief that holding elections on time was first priority and that this alone could show the way further by restoring trust and reiteration of democratic values.
UN Response to Gang led street violence:
Spiral of gang led violence could be addressed only from second week of January 2007 after a Gang Task force was constituted under Deputy Commissioner of Operations having representatives from Political, JMAC, ISF, Humanitarian, PNTL and UNDP. A trilateral instrument was signed between Australian led International Stabilization Force, UNMIT and the Government of Timor Leste (26th Jan 2007), which from UNPOL’s point of view implied availability of tier three back-up support of the ISF in operations. This was crucial because UNMIT had no military component.
What UNMIT had instead were four Formed Police Units (each with nearly 140 men). Two of these, Portuguese and Malaysian were headquartered in Dili (and had initially arrived as bi-lateral arrangement much on the similar lines of the ISF and AFP in May 2007) and one each in eastern and western part of the country. The FPUs lent the tier 2 support and the ISF, tier three support in management of public order which was primary responsibility of the UNPOL. It was implied though not put to ink that against martial art groups (MAGs) and clandestine groups armed with traditional weapons and low intensity incendiary devices, the UNPOL assisted by the FPUs would take the lead with the ISF providing third tier support. However for operations against the heavily armed group led by dismissed Major Reinado and Lt Salsinha, the ISF was to lead and UNPOL to provide outer cordon support and checkpoints.
Tri-lateral Ops forum and the Gang Task Force:
Since administrative set up remained fiercely national, despite the sweeping policing mandate, the national ownership of all operations was necessary. Tri-lateral Ops forum was set up under the office of the Prime Minister and having representatives of Ministry of interior (permanent secretary), UNMIT (Chief of Staff and Political head), ISF (Deputy Commander), UNPOL (DPCO), JMAC chief, FFDTL (Chief of Staff) and PNTL (Deputy Commander).This forum met every week or two weeks and set agenda for Operations as well as for the Tri lateral high level forum which met under the PM every two weeks. When the Ops forum first met, it addressed the grave situation arising out of gang violence and authorized the GTF to neutralize it. The trilateral forum also identified hot spots and vital installations whose static security was apportioned to ISF, UNPOL and FFDTL.
Further to the approval of the of senior management team of UNMIT the Gang Task Force came in existence. GTF organized the first meeting with the leaders of the major martial arts groups on 24 January 2007 at police HQs. In attendance during the said meeting which was presided by the DSRSG (SSR and ROL} were the Commissioner and the DPCO, ISF Commander, and gang leaders identified as follows; Jaime Xavier Lopes (PSHT), Sanamia, (77), Nunu (KORKA), Carlos Alberto (33), Osorio Legui (Colimao 2000), Antonino Pires, (Kungfu Wushu) and Lucas da Costa (Tae-Kwon-Do). The peace talks began in a heavy atmosphere of deep animosity and beyond the initial statements, there was no breaking of ice. The gang leaders professed that their groups were only interested in Martial arts (Kung fu, 77, KORKA and Tae Kwon Do) or Community development (PSHT and Colimou 2000). They did not even blame each other for the violence and were infact hesitant to address the issue at all. This was ominous and the meeting ended inconclusively. UNPOL, which had individually brought the gang leaders to the meeting on assurance of safety, transported them back to their hideouts.
On the night of 24th and 25th itself there was considerable violence in areas of Bairo Pite, Surikmas and, Hudi laran wherein a large number of houses were burnt and there was rampant rock throwing. The Formed police units which had been pre-positioned in these areas had difficult time controlling this violence as the perpetrators took advantage of darkness and fled. Rubber bullets and tear gas was used copiously and the arrests were quantitative and not qualitative as the real perpetrators adopted the shoot and scoot approach of guerrillas.
DPCO again convened a meeting on 27th January where PSHT, Korka and 7-7 chiefs were brought in as it had become fairly evident that PSHT which had western political elements at the fore was leading the violence against easterners. By this time of course a large proportion of easterners who had in the period 1999-2003 taken possession of evacuee properties (disproportionate to their numbers) had been systematically dispossessed since January 2006 of these properties and had landed in over a dozen IDP camps pock marked all over the capital. The PSHT (backed by western political outfits) was at the helm of this well orchestrated mechanism of violence and coercion that drove the easterners out of their recently acquired properties. But having tasted blood and having grown both in terms of numbers and access to fire power, the PSHT looked like becoming a parallel government. This meeting was significant as the PSHT chief categorically declared that they will not eschew violence. Political lines were clearly drawn as Korka and 77 were seen as close to the ruling party and PSHT to PD and PSD. The areas beset by violence were a strong hold of PD and what was being attempted was kind of ethnic cleansing by driving out all easterners from Bairo Pite, Surikmas and Hudi laran. It was clear after the meeting that nothing short of a surgical solution would work.
Operation Sling Shot:
The decision to take decisive action against PSHT was kept under wraps as the government itself was deeply divided on gang affiliations. Former secretary general of PSHT, Jose Neves, was a director in the office of Secretary of State for Youth and Sport. The current PSHT strong man Jamie Xavier Lopes was a functionary in the government himself and related by blood to the shadow PM . A senior Timorese diplomat then serving overseas was also known to be a PSHT member. The head of 7-7 was a government civil security officer, PNTL’s former General Commander Paul Martins was affiliated to the original Colimau and Nuno of Korka was close to Fretilin leadership. What UN was to contend with was not only the initial sweep in the gang’s strong holds but the possible repercussions and threat of balance of power/ terror among the gangs changing once again.
From 28th January, FPUs assigned to Dili were given fresh deployment orders. They were pre-positioned in the vicinity of disturbed areas. The Malaysian FPU and the Portuguese GNR were assigned to Western and eastern parts of the city respectively. The SWAT teams of GNR were briefed about the hard entry responsibility and two Platoons of Bangladesh FPU were deployed to static security at vital installations. 12 PSHT strong holds were mapped for simultaneous raid. On 30th January International Stability Force (ADF and NZ Army composite) were fully apprised of their role as outer cordon for the flush out operation and the operation was proposed to be mounted on 31st January itself so that surprise element remained.
Since the proposed operation entailed cordon and search beyond sun set hours and such an action is proscribed in the draft criminal procedure code of East Timor unless on hot pursuit, public prosecutors were requested to be present during the raid to authorize both urgent searches in dwelling houses (in the absence of prior Search warrants) and to arrest perpetrators when in possession of lethal weapons.
Two similarly composed teams led by senior UNPOL commanders and backed by FPU and ISF simultaneously laid seize on the targeted dwelling houses in Bairo Pite-Hudilaran- Ailok laran and Surikmas areas. Fierce resistance was faced but element of surprise won the day for the security forces. APCs of Malaysian FPU and the Portuguese FPU were used to physically block the attempt to escape, large spot lights were used to keep the gang members from committing mischief and taking advantage of darkness, and the ISF provided air surveillance and night vision capability should the miscreants try to sneak up the adjacent hills . The frontal forces faced some brick-batting and rambons-the lethal sling shots. But apart from grazing wounds sustained during hard entry the security forces did not suffer injuries. At the end of the day the operation resulted in the arrest of over 100 odd gang members of which 47 were identified as major perpetrators (41 of them from PSHT) and the seizure of a huge cache of illegal weapons including traditional weapons, wireless sets stolen from the PNTL, police uniforms, homemade firearms and incendiary devices like Molotov cocktails and improvised rocket launchers. Among the arrested suspects was Jaime Xavier Lopes, the top leader of PSHT who during earlier meetings with the GTF had refused to even give lip service to cease fire.
Similar police operations against MAGs and street gangs became routine. New gangs formed as Internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in swarming tents at prime locations (near Airport, City center) and under loose protection of certain state elements took roots in these locations and started operating with impunity, basically resorting to extortion and protection money against westerner gangs in major markets like Colmera, Taibessi and Audian. Police often searched without warrants on pretext of “no addresses” and in “hot pursuit” and seized weapons and stolen items. However the charges were minor and most gang members were back on ground after at the most 72 hrs of detention.
Two biggest spikes of violence took place in March 2007 (Triggered by rice shortages and ISF action against deserters in district Same` which led to five deaths) and August 2007 (In eastern part of country and in Dili as protest against Presidential invitation to CNRT led coalition to form government over the Fretlin which emerged as single largest party) but could be quelled quickly due to pre-positioning of FPU and concerted action with the ISF. Confidence building measures like flag marches in vulnerable areas, territory domination by security forces by show of force and later formation of task force of the PNTL (the national police) itself led to robust display of force on streets and helped contain pent up violence till a major trigger set off fresh round of arson and looting. It could be said that in the initial days at least, peace was more a dividend of show of force and its use when warranted rather than dispensation of justice and trickle down of international largesse. For this reason, peace was also brittle and prone to break down upon stimuli that lay outside the scope of redress by security forces like sudden rice shortages leading to food riots in March 2007. On the part of DPKO, however credit must be given for its unstinted support in allowing the UNPOL in East Timor to use rubber bullets at a time when their use had been suspended following deaths in Kosovo in late 2006.
Lessons learnt from action against MAGs:
That the MAGs by and large had limited access to automatic weapons and largely relied on traditional weapons but their influence increased or waned depending upon how the society and in turn the police reacted to their machinations.
That political alignment was a bi-product of local dynamics rather than politics being the raison de etre for their existence. The way PD and PSD used the PSHT or Fretlin used the KORKA was reminiscent of “rent a mob” tactics to create fear psychosis among people and demonstrate area dominance.
The leadership of these groups did not have complete control over the members and that depending upon socio-economic circumstances, the radicals or the puritans called the shots. So while a grouping of same MAG in one area would be solely involved in community development, in another area its members may be running racket of organized crime including trafficking in woman, gambling and drug running.
That these groups could be controlled regionally by providing them avenues of employment in which case they always reverted to their professed vocation.
That while a surgical solution from time to time would make the gangs recede for a while but lasting solution lay in youth engagement in productive avenues and dispensation of justice and not mere existence of law or law enforcers. At the end of the day, for a country of one million, a combined security forces strength by the most liberal standards should be near about 3000. (at 300 per 100,000 citizens)
That less than lethal means but sound training of public order component of police was crucial to police gaining upper hand at the bairo levels in tackling gang leaders. But equally important was the image of the police in the community which decided whether intelligence inputs will be available to them at the police station level.
That development of leadership within police was sine qua non in curbing the extra-institutional loyalties of members of the police establishment. Same holds true for the armed forces as well.
That in UN Mandates where interim law enforcement is an important component, it could be worthwhile to consider putting the Prosecutors under administrative control of the SRSG so that the political expediency does not frustrate the efforts of UN police and security forces in enabling pre-trial detention of proclaimed offenders.
(The genesis, character and categories of individual gangs has been comprehensively covered in the AUSAID sponsored report of James Scambary of RMIT)
Heavily Armed Groups and UN mandate
Heavily armed groups in East Timor have been a result of failed politics rather than insurgency. For this reason alone the heavily armed groups, basically those hived off from the FFDTL, variously called petitioners/deserters /renegades, were sought to be brought back into the fold through political means with nearly disastrous consequences as attempted coup of Feb 11 2008 demonstrated.
Issue of Petitioners is well documented in the Commission of Enquiry report both chronologically as well as analytically. The east-west chasm that in MAGs was an undercurrent, tore apart the FFDTL down the center by March 2006 with half of the Army (594 men) straightaway dismissed. A significant number including Military Police chief Alfredo Reinado and Lt Salsinha later deserted on pretext of use of lethal force to quell public order in April 2006 but basically as a show of solidarity towards dismissed westerner petitioners.
The impunity with which the Alfredo Reinado and his men first escaped from Becora Jail (September 2006) and later took away automatic weapons from border posts (in Covalima district in last week of February 2007), amply demonstrated their intact support base both in the government and in Western districts. For a time the Government contemplated taking a tough stance and authorized the ISF to “get them” in March 2007. The security forces operation under leadership of ISF was able to isolate and surround the core group in Same town in the first week of March 2007. The desperation of the encircled dismissed soldiers led to exchange of fire in which four of them died. This led to the Government calling off the ops wilting under pressure of political expediency. The results of the pull out were disastrous a year into future. The events and run up to attempted coup and attempted assassination of the President and the Prime minister (Feb 11, 2008) are well documented ( from numerous clandestine meetings the President held with armed rebels on their terms to revoking the warrants of arrest against them to allowing them to move freely in the country) but the lessons drawn are poignant.
That illegal and heavily armed groups have to be classified in internationally acceptable terminology, which is “insurgents” or “terrorists”. Once so classified, the political chaff flies off and mandate for action becomes transparent.
That continued political “dealing” with such groups only serves to fuel up their ambitions and shows the agencies whether political or law enforcing or armed forces in poor light. The end result of such an exercise could be even more grave than the Feb 11, 2008 shootings.
United Nations, especially where it does not have a military component, must keep itself at a distance from such groups (as was indeed the case of UNMIT which repeatedly called upon the renegades’ submission to justice as prerequisite to any discussions) as the UN police mandate with or without the FPU support does not give it sufficient firepower to match the heavily armed militias.