Monday, February 27, 2006

Mass mutiny hits East Timor army

by Mark Dodd, The Australian

"More than 400 mutinous East Timorese soldiers -- a quarter of the country's army -- will be dismissed for deserting after protesting over poor conditions and selective promotions.
The mass sacking is a great blow to the strength of East Timor's fledgling defence force and poses a potential security risk.

At large is a volatile, undisciplined group with military training who were previously seasoned guerrilla fighters against the Indonesian occupiers.

Their dismissal is also an embarrassment for Canberra because most of the rebel troops received training from the Australian Defence Force as part of the Howard Government's $26million defence co-operation program with East Timor.

East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has threatened further punishment for the mutineers, including civil and military justice.

Dr Alkatiri said many were former resistance fighters "not used to the discipline of a regular military force".

Most of the 400 are former Falintil guerrilla veterans of the bloody 24-year struggle for independence against Indonesia.

Ambiguity remained over the timing of the dismissals. According to one senior Western military source, the rebel troops had been given until tomorrow to end their "strike", while other reports suggested the sackings had already occurred.

East Timor's army commander, Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak, was quoted in one of Dili's mainstream newspapers, Suara Timor Lefte, as having "thanked" the rebels for their service and considered them dismissed for refusing to meet a deadline to return to base.
The standoff began on February 8 when the soldiers deserted their barracks and arrived in Dili to present a petition to their commander-in-chief, President Xanana Gusmao, asking for their complaints to be investigated.

Mr Gusmao accepted the petition and ordered the troops to return to base. The order was refused despite the rebels winning a government inquiry into their grievances.
East Timor human rights group Yayasan-HAK said the army lacked a "transparent" code of military conduct, and disciplinary problems within the ranks of the 1500-strong force were increasingly widespread.

"We found there was no regulation or disciplinary code and no regulations concerning promotion," Yayasan-HAK spokesman Jose Oliveira said.

The ADF has played a key role in training the F-FDTL."

For a transcript of an interview with Australia’s Defence Force Minister about the issue, click here.

Source: The Australian/ABC News

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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