ETLJB 28 December 2008 - On 4 December 2002, violence erupted on the streets of Dili in the wake of a protest in front of the police headquarters and the Government Palace. The then-Prime Minister Alkatiri's residence was burnt to the ground, as was an Australian-owned supermarket and other buildings and motor vehicles torched. 5 people were killed as police went beserk firing indiscriminately at people on the street (obrigado ba PNTL ho UN). A poorly-publicised state of curfew was declared but people were unaware of it (thanks UN) and so the police continued the violent crackdown the following morning when people emerged onto the streets again.
A UN investigation was conducted into these events. The report from the investigation may be read at : Executive Summary of Investigations of Police Response to Riots of 4 December 2002. (This link will take you to a pdf file on the East Timor Law Journal.)
There follows a report from the UN Newswire about the riot.
Most Serious Riots Since Independence Hit Dili Wednesday, December 04, 2002
U.N. peacekeepers were mobilized today to help East Timorese authorities deal with the most serious violence to hit the country since independence was declared in May. As many as five protesters were killed in the Timorese capital of Dili following clashes between students and police near key buildings in the city.
A witness of the riots told Reuters that at least five people were killed in the clashes, while several more, including a senior parliamentarian, were wounded, some apparently showing signs of gunshot wounds. Reuters reports that today's clashes, which follow a clash involving students and police in Dili yesterday, began when shots were fired by unknown sources into a crowd of protestors demonstrating in front of police headquarters for the release of an arrested student. The protest then moved to the nearby National Parliament building, where shots were also fired (Lirio Da Fonseca, Reuters, Dec. 4).
According to LUSA Agencia de Noticias, about 50 students invaded the governmental palace, where Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was meeting with a Portuguese ministerial delegation, but they quickly withdrew (LUSA, Dec. 4, UN Wire translation). During the violence today, many vehicles and buildings were burned, including Alkatiri's residence, Dili's mosque and the largest supermarket in the city (LUSA II, Dec. 4, UN Wire translation). According to Reuters, at least one U.N. vehicle was also burned (Da Fonseca, Reuters).
Situation Reportedly Under Control
LUSA reports that calm has begun to return to the capital, but the situation remains tense in the city's streets, which are under heavy police and military guard (LUSA II). Speaking at a press conference following the riots today, Alkatiri denied that the government had declared a state of emergency or a curfew, but called on the population to remain inside their houses (LUSA III, Dec. 4, UN Wire translation). Alkatiri also insisted that neither the government nor the United Nations gave orders for security forces to fire on demonstrators.
He promised a rapid investigation to find those responsible for the incidents and said he was "deeply saddened" by today's events, which he said is going to dissuade foreign investment and therefore make "more difficulties for the Timorese people," who live in one of Asia's poorest countries.
"I am appealing on political party leaders to think about the country," he said. "What has been burned is the prestige of the country and the dignity of the people," he added (LUSA IV, UN Wire translation).
Ramos Horta Calls For "Freeze" In Peacekeeper Reduction
The recent violence in the country should serve as a warning to the international community to hold back on plans to further cut the U.N. police and peacekeeping presence in the country, said East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta from Madrid, canceling travel plans to Mexico and saying he will return immediately to East Timor.
"Today's events should constitute an alert for the need of continued (international) aid for the consolidation of peace and stability" in East Timor, he said. The United Nations has proposed that peacekeepers be withdrawn gradually until January 2004, when Timorese defense and police forces are expected to take over full responsibility for the country's security (LUSA V, Dec. 4).
A U.N. spokesman, meanwhile, said that the recent violence was just a "bump in the road" on East Timor's transition to a peaceful democracy. "I really don't want to speculate" on what has led to this violence, Brennon Jones said. "It's a young government, it's a young police force, it's a young administration and we hope that things can return to normal quickly."
Noting meetings being held today between senior government and U.N. representatives, he added, "There are serious talks going on to try and resolve this bump in the road" (Emilio San Pedro, BBC World Update, Dec. 4, Note: You may have to download free software to access this audio link).
Timorese Blame Agitators, Radical Group For Violence
According to Ramos Horta, former members of pro-Indonesian militia may be behind today's riots, TSF Online reports. "There are elements behind the events, among the demonstrators, that are supposedly linked to ex-militia groups, who have tried to take advantage [of the situation] to cause disturbances," he said (TSF Online, Dec. 4, UN Wire translation).
Some government officials blamed the Conselho Popular pela Defesa de Republica Democratica de Timor Leste for being behind the riots. The CPD-RDTL has been blamed in the past for several violent incidents in East Timor, including a supposed assassination attempt on Timorese President Xanana Gusmao.
"This is an orchestrated maneuver to topple the government," said Minister of Internal Affairs Rogerio Lobato (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo! News, Dec. 4).
However, according to Joao Noronha, a journalist with the local Correio de Timor, the violence may be linked to Gusmao's call last week for the resignation of Lobato for incompetence following attacks on a police station in the town of Baucau by an armed group of 400 men last month (Sandra Cunha, TSF Online, Dec. 4, UN Wire translation).
7 December 2002 Joint Statement of Civil Society Organizations in Timor Lorosa'e
Never Sacrifice People for Political Ambition
As civil society organizations in East Timor working for freedom and true democracy in this country, we are concerned about and condemn the violent incidents on 3 and 4 December, 2002.
We were shocked by the arson and looting of some shops, offices and private houses in Dili on 4 December. During these incidents, two people died and 26 were injured.
The violence that day began with attacks on the National Parliament building and East Timor Police Service (ETPS) headquarters, followed by rampaging and looting. It appeared to be spontaneous mass anger, provoked by the fatal shooting of a student from the 28 November High School during the turmoil, after which the group attacked the National Parliament building while the Parliament was in session. But careful observation indicates that this arson and looting was systematic and directed.
The incident on 4 December cannot be separated from an incident a day before, when students of 28 November High School clashed with ETPS officers. The students challenged the police because they believed that officers acted arbitrarily in arresting a student accused of a criminal act. On 3 December, some students and their teachers came to the National Parliament to resolve this dispute. The next morning, in accordance with an agreement they had made with the Parliament, students and some teachers returned to the Parliament building. Many people had been waiting outside the building, and they joined the high school delegation. Some of these people then incited students to attack the parliament - smashing windows by throwing stones. One Parliament member was injured on the head by a thrown stone.
After attacking the National Parliament building, the growing crowd, now including High School students and other unidentified youth, ran to ETPS headquarters. During the turmoil, a High School student was killed by a bullet. The crowd believed that the bullet was fired by police officers guarding their headquarters. After this fatal event, some in the crowd, who did not appear to be high school students, abused ETPS officers. They shouted accusations, including that many former anti-independence militias were in the police force. Some also shouted "Oust Mari Alkatiri!" "Paul (Head of ETPS) resign!" "Rogerio (Minister for Internal Affairs) stay!" These people continued to incite the crowd.
President Xanana Gusmão went into the middle of the crowd, eventually succeeding in inviting some students from the high school and university into the Parliament building. But others were incited to go to the nearby Hello Mister supermarket. They burned the supermarket, and then looted the Lorosa'e Dili Hotel (former Hotel Resende). Some others went eastward, burning a government vehicle in front of the Harvey Norman store and throwing stones at cars parked in front of the Landmark and Dili Cold Storage supermarkets.
Then the mob which had attacked the Lorosa'e Dili Hotel quickly went to the Colmera neighborhood, some walking and others riding motorbikes. In Colmera, they burned the Gloria garment shop and shops next to it, and looted the Border Control Service storehouse. After Colmera, the mob, now no more than 50 people, went to the An-Nur mosque in Kampung Alor. They burned houses at the left part of the mosque compound, in front of the mosque. Some of the arsonists arrived in a truck, bring the total to around 100.
From the An-Nur mosque, the mob went west. In Comoro, they burned a house owned by one of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's brothers, next to the Super Wok restaurant. The mob continued westward to the Micro Finance Institution of East Timor, where they threw stones. Following this, the mob was ordered "To Mari Alkatiri house!" The mob hurried to Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's home, in the Pantai Kelapa area. They burned a government vehicle parked near the Prime Minister's house. Upon arriving in front of the house, some youth shouted, "Get out police, get out police!" "We just want to burn the house!" Some others threw stones at the house. After a period no response from inside, some youths went into the yard and took out two motorbikes, which were burned in the middle of the street. At the same time, some others broke in to destroy the house. A youth on a motorbike provided a plastic container of gasoline; others used this to burn the house. Some people ordered those burning the house not to burn the Fretilin flag and not to take any goods from the house.
After burning down the Prime Minister's home, the mob turned south, toward a house owned by PM Alkatiri's young brother, a hundred meters away. They burned this house and another, also owned by PM Alkatiri's young brother but rented to a foreigner. Then the mob moved down Bebonuk street to Delta Comoro, where they dispersed.
All of this destruction occurred without the presence of security officers to prevent it. From the morning onward, there appeared to be almost no police officers, neither ETPS nor UN Police, in the entire city.
After the Parliament building was attacked, the riot police officers in front of Lorosa'e Dili Hotel withdrew, although the area in front of ETPS headquarters was already very tense. During the later rampaging, neither the ETPS nor PKF took any security measures. Some trucks of PKF troops were seen, but they secured only a few places. They passed places where rampaging was underway, but just passed by, doing nothing to stop it.
The security of East Timor is still under the authority of the United Nations. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1410(2002), which establishes the UN Mission in Support of East Timor (UNMISET), the UNMISET mandate includes (2(b)) "to provide law enforcement and public security and to assist in the development of a new law enforcement agency in East Timor, the East Timor Police Service (ETPS)" and (2(c)), "to contribute to the maintenance of the external and internal security of East Timor." East Timor's Police Service, according to an UNMISET-ETPS-Donor Joint Assessment Mission last week, is "currently operating under the executive authority of UNPOL."
The 4 December rampage was not random. Some people incited the crowd with words attacking Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, shouting that the government was responsible for the murder of the youth, that the youth was a fighter for freedom in East Timor. After many people were enraged by these words, they were directed to certain targets for destruction, looting and burning. After one target was destroyed, the crowd was directed to another, and so on until the list was finished.
From our observations in the field, "actors" can be put into four categories: · Those who incited the crowd and directed them to destroy certain targets. These people also supplied gasoline for arson. Most are 20-30 years old. Some have long hair, others have short hair. Some rode motorbikes. · Those who directed the rampage. Some of them had swords hidden under long-sleeved shirts. · People who threw stones and burned buildings. Many of them are teenagers. Possibly they were the ones incited. · Those who looted shops after the rampage. Most probably, these are people incited or who came to watch, but then took the opportunity to steal goods.
The rampaging on 4 December, 2002, reminds us of criminal acts done by anti-independence bandits in 1999, together with their Indonesian military patrons. We find it ironic that the people of East Timor, who are rebuilding our societal and national life from scorched-earth ruins, have had to experience violence again.
We observe that the violence was systematic, and therefore conclude that the rampage was planned to achieve a particular purpose. The purpose is apparently not to take goods, because the prime actors are not the ones who looted. Based on the selection of targets, we believe that the purpose is politics, to disturb the economy of East Timor and to discredit the leader of the present government.
Based what we know so far, we conclude that:
1. The violence on 4 December, 2002 was systematic.
2. This violence has a political motive.
3. Many youth were exploited to implement this the violence without knowing its plan and purpose.
4. Security officers' failure to carry out their responsibilities made the violence possible. This is not only the fault of ETPS, because security is currently the responsibility of the United Nations, specifically UNMISET and its UN Police and UN Peace-Keeping Force.
In order to achieve a democratic, secure, peaceful and stable nation, we urge:
1. The United Nations to better meet their responsibility for security, including taking measures against security personnel who failed to performing their duties.
2. Political elites and anyone with political interests not to use criminal, -barbaric or anti-democratic manners for own aims.
3. Young people to refuse to be used as tools for interests who seek to undermine the struggles for which East Timor has sacrificed blood, tears and materials.
4. The authorities to thoroughly and completely investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the violence on 4 December 2002, while respecting human rights principles.
Dili, East Timor
7 December 2002
Marito Araújo Asosiasaun Mane Kontra Violensia (AMKV) Association of Men Against Violence
Miguel Mane-Telu Concelho Nacional de Juventude de Timor Leste (CNJTL) National Council of East Timorese Youth
Takahashi Shigehito East Timor Desk - Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan (CBCJ)
Abdullah H. Sagran Centro da Comunidade Islâmica de Timor Leste (CENCISTIL)
Islamic Community Center of East Timor
José Jaquelino Gusmão Centro do Desenvolvimento da Economia Popular (CDEP)
Center for Development and Popular Economy
Maria Manuela Leong Pereira Forum Komunikasi Perempuan Timor Lorosa'e (Fokupers)
Communication Forum for East Timorese Women
Demetrio Amaral Fundação Haburas Haburas (Green) Foundation
Eugenio Lemos Hadomi Sustenabilidade Agricultura Timor Leste (HASATIL)
East Timor Sustainable Agriculture
Nelson Belo Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP)
Konsellu Solidaridade Universitario Timor Lorosa'e (KSUTL) East Timor University Solidarity Council
Mericio Akara La'o Hamutuk East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
Leonito Ribeiro Lembaga Bantuan Hukum "Tane Timor" Legal Aid Association
Tome Xavier Jeronimo Pacific Asia Resource Centre (PARC)
José Luís de Oliveira Perkumpulan HAK Association for Rights, Law and Justice
Nuno Rodriguez Sah'e Institute for Liberation
Virgílio Guterres Silva Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association (TLJA)
Joaquim Costa Warga Desa Kolmera Community of Colmera Neighborhood