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Timor - Military Doctrine

Defining a meaningful role for Timor-Leste National Defence Forces (F-FDTL) in a peacetime setting, enhancing its training, clarifying its relationship with the national police, and establishing internal accountability and civilian oversight mechanisms was one of the primary challenges for the Government, to be addressed with the assistance of bilateral partners, in the short and medium term.

The post-referendum violence and destruction, and the presence of hostile militia elements across an ill-defined border with Indonesian West Timor, raised initial fears that Timor-Leste would face immediate external security threats, but such fears were not realized. Vigorous early work on border demarcation during the 1999-2002 transition period reduced the number of potential flashpoints. Critically, domestic politics evolved in both Timor-Leste and Indonesia to create an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation, as Indonesia redefined itself in the post-Suharto era and Timor-Leste acknowledged the unavoidable imperative of repairing relations with its much larger neighbor.

The first fundamental objective of the State is to defend the sovereignty of the country (Article 6 of the Constitution of the RDTL) and the defence strategy of Timor-Leste has a defensive posture based on diplomacy and dissuasion. Constitutionally, Timor-Leste will always opt to avoid conflict by means of the peaceful resolution of disputes; however, it reserves the right to use the Armed Forces to defend itself from external threats.

The conventional (military) threats are latent, characterised in accordance with the degree of interests and the dimension of conflict among the States that border Timor-Leste. The trend towards non-conventional threats (terrorism) is common and global. The vulnerability of Timor-Leste varies according to the typology (the size, the scope, the category and the level) of internal threats with an international impact, but overall Timor-Leste is subject to any kind of imposition of collaboration with the immediate neighbours motivated by their own interests.

The greatest threat to Timorese security proved to be internal. As the UN presence drew down after formal independence in May 2002, old domestic rivalries buffeted fragile institutions that were ill-equipped to manage conflict peacefully. A combination of factors -- personal animosity among political elites; institutional tensions both within the military and between the military (drawn heavily from the independence-era guerrilla force) and the police (populated in part with Indonesian holdovers); regional jealousies (Westerners alleging bias in favor of the East); and generational grievances by the younger Timorese who felt their contributions to the independence struggle had not been sufficiently recognized -- joined together to produce the crisis of 2006. Two months of street violence claimed dozens of lives, brought down the Alkatiri government, resulted in widespread property destruction and 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and took the country to the brink of an anarchic civil war. As in 1999, order was restored by an international security force led by Australia, eventually supplemented with a renewed United Nations peacekeeping mandate that continues today. The 2006 crisis was Timor's most serious test as an independent country, one that it failed miserably.

The law does not fully clarify the roles of the national police (PNTL), the judicially mandated and recently established Scientific Police for Criminal Investigations (PSIK), and the military (F-FDTL). Security sector experts say also that the operational roles and relationship between the PNTL and the F-FDTL were unclear. The PNTL is legally responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. It has several specialized units, including border, maritime, and immigration units. An organic law detailing the structure, role, and disciplinary rules for the PNTL had not been enacted.

The F-FDTL is legally responsible for external security, and may play a role in internal security only in “crisis” or “emergency” situations declared by the government and president. The F-FDTL, however, may support police in joint operations if requested by a “competent entity.” The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but the chief of defense, the F-FDTL’s senior military officer, exercised day-to-day command over the armed forces.

The lack of clear relationships and responsibilities between security forces applied to the joint operation against the KRM, although the forces made efforts to follow their legally appropriate roles. F-FDTL military police responded occasionally to incidents involving only civilians. According to expert sources, civilian oversight of the PNTL and the F-FDTL remained relatively weak. Various bilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL.

The PNTL’s internal accountability mechanisms remained somewhat ineffective, but improved. Rates of reported cases closed without investigation decreased, but the office responsible for internal affairs (the PNTL Department of Justice) was not properly resourced to investigate and respond to all cases brought to its attention. The office increased its use of disciplinary measures, such as demotions, written admonitions, and fines. Nonetheless, especially outside the capital, district commanders may not fully engage in the disciplinary process, perhaps due partly to lack of familiarity with disciplinary procedures.

In February 2006, approximately 400 military personnel (from a total military strength of 1,400) petitioned President Gusmao to address their complaints of discrimination. The commander of the country's armed forces (F-FDTL) dismissed the petitioners, who reacted with a demonstration that flared into violence on April 28. In response to the escalating unrest, large numbers of people began to flee their homes for internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or the outlying districts. The violence mounted with a series of deadly clashes among the F-FDTL, dissident military forces, civilians, and some police occurring on May 23-25. Mob and gang violence took over the capital, resulting in additional deaths, widespread destruction of property, and the continued displacement of thousands of Dili residents. At the peak of the crisis, there was a national total of about 150,000 IDPs.

Facing a full-scale collapse of civil order, the Government of Timor-Leste on May 28 asked the Governments of Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Portugal to send security forces to stabilize the country. Under heavy domestic political pressure, Prime Minister Alkatiri resigned on June 27. Jose Ramos-Horta--the Foreign and Defense Minister in the Alkatiri government--became Prime Minister on July 10, and a new cabinet was sworn in on July 14, 2006.

On August 25, 2006 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1704, creating the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). UNMIT’s mandate includes assisting in restoring stability, rebuilding the institutions comprising the security sector, supporting the Government of Timor-Leste in conducting the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, and achieving accountability for the crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed in 1999. UNMIT has a large policing component. In May 2009, UNMIT police began transferring primary policing responsibility to the Timorese Police Force (PNTL) on a district-by-district basis. In March 2011, UNMIT completed its handover of executive policing authority to the PNTL. While the UN Security Council extended UNMIT's mandate annually since 2006, UNMIT and the Government of Timor-Leste made plans for the withdrawal of UNMIT police and personnel by the end of 2012.

On February 11, 2008, followers of former military police commander and fugitive Major Alfredo Reinado attacked President Ramos-Horta. Ramos-Horta sustained gunshot injuries and was airlifted to Australia for medical treatment. Prime Minister Gusmao escaped unharmed after his bodyguards thwarted a separate attack against him the same day as the attack on the president. The president's bodyguards killed Reinado. The government, with the approval of the national parliament, immediately imposed a state of siege that temporarily imposed a curfew, curtailed freedom of assembly, and gave security forces greater latitude for arrests and searches. These emergency measures were scaled back as conditions stabilized over the following weeks. President Ramos-Horta returned to Timor-Leste on April 17. The state of emergency was lifted completely when the remainder of Reinado’s followers surrendered to authorities on April 29, 2008. Most of them were convicted on March 3, 2010, for their involvement in the assassination attempt. Ramos-Horta subsequently commuted the sentences of the defendants, and they were released. Since 2008, the government succeeded in maintaining stability throughout the country.

27 March 2011 marked the resumption by the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) of responsibility for the conducts, command and control of all police operations in the country. That resumption did not affect the continuing low crime rate. UNMIT police continued to provide operational support to the Timorese national police force in such areas as close protection, joint patrols and border policing. On 02 May 2012, the Council of Ministers approved the comprehensive security sector review entitled “Securing the future”, which was developed with the participation of relevant security institutions and submitted by the Secretary of State for Security. In its press release, the Council noted that the review was the first phase of an ongoing process that will make security sector institutions more efficient and effective, with clearly defined mandates that will allow well-coordinated operations. The draft national security policy was also submitted by the Secretary of State for Security to the Council on 2 May. Subsidiary legislation and/or regulations on civil protection and border management were prepared by the Office of the Secretary of State for Security, with UNMIT technical support. The submitted draft Decree-Law on the Regime of Private Security, which regulates private security activity and provides a regime of enforcement and sanctions, was approved by the Council of Ministers on 15 February 2012.

By 2012 earlier concerns about the need to ensure clear delineation between the rolesand responsibilities of PNTL and F-FDTL and the risk of possible tensions among their members, had diminished, although these issues required the continuing attention of the Timorese leadership. In public comments during the 2012 electoral period, the Commander of F-FDTL consistently maintained that F-FDTL would play only a supporting role to PNTL, underlining that the latter is the entity responsible for internal security.

The Prime Minister brought both the police (PNTL) and military (F-FDTL) under his control and oversaw their operations until 2015 when the government decided that the two were able to operate independently. Despite progress in addressing institutional tensions, militants who were part of the independence movement but not reconciled to the political situation represent a continuing source of potential conflict.

On 11 May 2016 H.E. the President of the Republic, Taur Matan Ruak, at the Presidential Palace, presided over the sixth meeting of the Superior Council of Defence and Security (SCDS) on the leadership changeover in the Defence Forces, as well as on the defence and security strategic concept. The meeting was held for one hour and followed on from the previous one last month, on 25 April. In a press statement after the meeting, Prime Minister Rui Maria Araújo said that the Head of State’s decision regarding the leadership changeover in the Defence Forces would be made at the next week’s meeting. Present at the meeting were Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo, the new president of National Parliament, Aderito Hugo, Minister of Defence Cirilo Cristóvão Pinto, Minister of Internal Affairs Longuinhos Monteiro, the General Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Major General Lere Anan Timur, the Police Commander, Comissioner Julio Hornay, and other appointed members.

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Page last modified: 29-09-2016 20:02:10 ZULU