01/21/2008, 00.00
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High risk of violence in East Timor

The International Crisis Group warns in a report of dangers urging the government of the young nation and the United Nations to quickly reform the defence sector. Continuing tensions between army and police threaten the country’s stability.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) – East Timor risks lapsing into civil conflict if divisions between the police and the armed forces are not resolved, International Crisis Group (ICG) warned on Friday, calling on the government and United Nations to act quickly.

Clashes between police and military deserters between April and June 2006 around the capital left the city at the mercy of criminal gangs. The result was a death toll of 37 and 155,000 people displaced, about a fifth of the country’s total population.

Relative calm was restored when foreign troops and police under the aegis of the United Nations arrived to monitor presidential elections last year. However, tensions remain unresolved and these continue to hang over the young country’s future and threaten its stability.

According to the ICG report, the “police suffer from low status and an excess of political interference. The army still trades on its heroism in resisting the Indonesian occupation but has not yet found a new role and has been plagued by regional (east-west) rivalry.”

The ICG tells the United Nations to support with the necessary means and personnel the reform of the defence sector. With foreign forces on the ground, the government can "conduct a genuine reform of the security sector, but it will have to move quickly", John Virgoe, the group's Southeast Asia project director, was quoted as saying.

The report calls on the authorities to resist the temptation to take autocratic decisions, but urges them instead to “ensure that the process is inclusive by consulting widely” as recommended by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1704.

East Timor's government, led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, declined to comment on the report.

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