26 July 2009

The Last Resistance Generation’: The Reintegration and Transformation of Freedom Fighters to Civilians in Timor-Leste

The Last Resistance Generation’: The Reintegration and Transformation of Freedom Fighters to Civilians in Timor-Leste[1]

Jose Kai Lekke Sousa-Santos

paper presented at the rmit university ‘harii nasaun iha timor-Leste urbanu no rural’ conference, dili, 8-10 july 2009

The process of nationbuilding is a notoriously exclusive exercise despite the often used, but ill-exercised catch-cry ‘principle of participation’. The reality tends to be that the best intentions of the members of the international community often create an environment in which elements of the new society are often sequestered to the margins. In the case of Timor-Leste, these elements are mostly comprised of the last generation of freedom fighters to form the resistance movement and armed struggle against the Indonesian occupation. Referred to here as ‘the last resistance generation,’ this paper advances the argument that the failure to reintegrate and transform elements of this young demographic – many of whom are disenfranchised, unemployed, and poorly educated – has been a critical but not unforseen oversight of ten years of nationbuilding.

The failure to reintegrate and transform the last resistance generation is a paramount issue which continues to be, and has the potential to remain, in the worst case scenario, one of the central pillars or dynamics of instability in the process of nationbuilding and security sector reform(SSR). On the other hand, the best case scenario is that this issue will remain a fundamental socio-economic challenge to current and future leaders which will be responsible with the critical tasks of addressing the challenges of nation and statebuilding in a complex state such as Timor Leste. This paper examines the lack of a holistic approach addressing the reintegration and transformation of former informal and formal resistance groups leading to the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of this significant demographic, . This paper also highlights past and current state and international initiatives to reintegrate former recognized independence fighters into society, as well as unrecognized or uncategorized members of the resistance movement and also explores methods to positively transform, and engage this invaluable albeit potentially destabilising demographic.

A large number of these individuals and groups gained international notoriety as a consequence of the 2006 crisis. An underlying theme of this paper – in the words of one such prominent figure, “are we forgotten heroes or bandidos? And if they continue to call us bandidos, we will show them bandidos.” Unfortunately due to the attitudes sometimes shown by the international security forces, United Nations Police, and certain INGOs, the inadvertent demonization of these former heroes of the struggle for independence continues to occur and entrenches this culture of marginalisation.

Ten Years On

Timor-Leste now faces the same central predicament that most nations emerging out of war or civil strife experience: how does the state integrate those who fought or actively supported the struggle for independence and self-determination. Ten years of internationally managed or assisted initiatives, have yet to resolve this fundamental issue. Key grievances arisen from this demographic remain only partially addressed. Many of the youth who fought or were actively engaged in the struggle for independence – the last resistance generation– remain unacknowledged and are not included or able to fully participate in the economic, educational and state development accessible to many. This is mainly due to the traumatic factors which these young men and women faced during the Indonesian occupation from 1975-99. Moreover, during the ten years since the referendum, the opinions and solutions espoused by many well-meaning countries, humanitarian agencies, and international NGOs, on how to build the national security infrastructure,[2] have failed to fully take into account the historical and socio- cultural complexities. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours have been spent addressing the issue of security sector reform as part of the broader nationbuilding exercise – issues deemed by international stakeholders as paramount to the future stability of an emerging democracy in Timor-Leste. This paper does not advocate an across-the-board identification or solution to all these problems but rather seeks to address one of the key topics which, Timorese NGOs[3] advocating for disenfranchised youth and disaffected groups have red flagged as one of the few critical issues yet to be addressed and resolved.


The Marginalisation and Disenfranchisement of the ‘Last Resistance Generation’

Comprising what is termed here as ‘the last resistance generation,’ are a complex mix of countless remnants consisting of young former FALINTIL fighters; ritual arts groups and semi religious sects, of secret societies a education and socio-economic prosperity. A singularly common denominator – and occasionally unifying factor - amongst the majority of individuals and elements within these groups scattered throughout urban and rural Timor-Leste is the poverty of opportunity they have experienced and an overriding sense of not belonging. It is of no coincidence that a proportion within these groups are well-represented by a frequently quoted and critically important demographic fact: the largest demographic within Timor-Leste’s population is our youth and up to two-thirds of Timorese youth are either directly involved with or affiliated to martial arts, ritual arts or disaffected groups. This demographic combined – this last resistance generation – is potentially volatile as demonstrated during the 2006 crisis and presents an uncompromising security landscape which needs to be understood and engaged with by stakeholders, not demonised or further marginalised. This militaristic and often feared demographic should and could become Timor-Leste’s greatest resource.

Early DDRR Initiatives

Despite early efforts in disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation (DDRR) programmes, many young former FALINTIL remain at the margins of society. Over 1000 former FALINTIL fighters went through the reintegration program, but thousands of others remained dissatisfied with their treatment and the manner in which the new army had been established.[4] In 2001 this dissatisfaction led to the creation of a number of veterans’ organisations and riots in December 2002.[5] Former FALINTIL fighters under the age of 35 who do not qualify to be considered as veterans under current government legislation are to a large extent uneducated, lacking in vocational skills, and suffering from extensive post-traumatic stress disorder. For instance, young former FALINTIL fighters who were not integrated into the newly-formed defence or police forces mainly due to high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and / or the lack of educational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, are relegated to accepting menial positions in the very State that they have sacrificed so much to create.

The FALINTIL Reinsertion Assistance Program or (FRAP) developed in 2000 under the UNTAET administration attempted to assist in the social and economic reintegration into civilian society of the 1,308 guerrilla fighters not selected to join the new East Timor Defence Force. Although a package consisting of: transport to their host communities; a transitional safety net of USD$500.00 provided over a 5 month period; a reintegration package or income generating activity; training; as well as job and medical referrals, it was not a long-term solution but rather provided initial support to the former combatants and did not engage or guarantee participation in the broader nation-building process.[6]

The Alkatiri / Fretilin Government created a secretary of state for veteran’s affairs and undertook the registering of veterans with the intention of granting pensions.[7] The caveat, however, is that only 350 veterans with service of fifteen years or more will receive monthly payments of calculated at USD$407 ($100 more a month than the public service salary). Veterans who have served eight to fourteen years only become eligible to receive a pension after the age of fifty-five. For many young fighters experiencing difficulties in accessing employment, education and vocational training, feel this to be unjust and discriminatory.

The transition from combatant life to civilian is shaped by context and it is arguable that for the transition, and therefore reintegration and transformation, to have a lasting impact, the unique cultural, historical, and social fabric and context of Timor-Leste must be an integral part of any strategy that seeks to address this issue. Particularly, the role of traditional leadership and power structures within Timor Leste, which comprises of large numbers of former combatants and clandestine elements – as central figures. The difficulties regarding the identification and validification of members of the clandestine movement has meant that as of yet there have been no similar programmes or initiatives to address and support the needs of these former clandestine elements and groups.

Former key elements of the independence movement such as formal and informal clandestine groups; ritual art groups; cells and elements within martial arts groups are at risk of morphing into disenfranchised and violent armed groups, organised criminal elements, and / or guns for hire.

Trauma and A Sense of Not Belonging = Violence and Instability

One of the critical and largely unaddressed consequences of the occupation is the widespread trauma experienced by those engaged both directly and indirectly in the struggle. Severe and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder has led to the elements who have contributed to the struggle being left at a disadvantage as opposed to the youth demographic which was not involved in the struggle for independence and was able to pursue and access a semi-normal life, for example, through educational, employment, and health care opportunities. Access to opportunities has better enabled this demographic to more easily integrate into an independent Timor-Leste and thereby overcome a certain level of trauma. Those who have little or no experience beyond the jungle and minimal opportunity to develop their skills beyond that of guerrilla warfare, civil disturbances, and the instigation of instability during the occupation, now find themselves within a vacuum regarding their identity, skill-sets, and a place and means in which to contribute to a now independent Timor-Leste. The lack of opportunity and sense of not belonging compounded by post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest in deep-seated resentment which will continue to maintain the availability of these groups as a source of political and civil instability.

A Source of Instability: Alternative Security Structures

The reintegration and transformation of young resistance veterans – including both FALINTIL and clandestine - into mainstream society is an essential component of nationbuilding and the mitigation of future conflict. It is of little coincidence that a number of the martial arts and ritual arts groups involved in the 2006-07 violence have their origins in the clandestine and guerrilla movement. Strong affiliations to both of the respective national security institutions – the F-FDTL and PNTL – as well as political parties and / or economic elites further necessitates the need for a comprehensive and holistic understanding and approach to transform past security and clandestine structures into the state apparatus. Due to their moral authority and legitimacy established during the occupation, many of these groups pose a challenge – and legitimate alternative - to state authority, specifically to the security sector and administrative institutions at the local and national levels.

Where to from here?

The approach advocated in this paper is a far more holistic, comprehensive, and socially appropriate approach that challenges those involved in SSR – the Government, the United Nations, international security stakeholders and INGOs– to engage this demographic not only in discussion but also into the security sector reform and nationbuilding process itself. Programmes initiated by local Timorese NGOs such as Uma Juventude, Ba Futuru, and many others, where selected young leaders from groups such as(7-7, 5-5, 3-3, 12-12, Fitar bua Malus, PSHT, KORK, Colimau Duah Ribuh and Sagrada Familia as well as Former FALINTIL fighters under the age of 35) were given the opportunity to engage in intensive training in conflict mediation, peacebuilding, and nationbuilding techniques, after completion of the programs the majority of participants have shown their effectiveness as agents of conflict mediation and change both at the grass-roots and national levels.

Academics and practitioners alike need to think outside the box and utilise programmes such as those conducted within the region in response to conflict in Bougainville and the Solomons Islands which gave young combatants the opportunity to experience possibilities beyond the jungle.

For instance, in response to the protracted civil war in Bougainville, the New Zealand Government invited leaders from the two warring factions from Bougainville on a study-tour of New Zealand where they were able to meet with Maori representatives and discuss traditional methods of maintaining nationhood and identity within a modern democratic state.

This eventuated in a change of attitudes on the part of the leaders of these warring factions, created bonds and understanding between the leaders based on mutual experience, and opened their eyes to the possibilities and benefits of dealing with long-standing conflicts and animosity through peaceful means within cultures similar to their own. This enabled Bougainvilleans to then peaceably address the long-standing self-determination movement between the Bougainvillean people and the Papua New Guinean state.

It is critical for the future peace and stability of Timor-Leste that all stakeholders involved in security sector reform – from the Timorese Government to the United Nations and all in between – that increased engagement with the last resistance generation is prioritised as it this group who themselves hold both the answers and the key to long-term security and stability in Timor Leste.

Selected References

International Crisis Group, ‘Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform,’ Crisis Group Asia Report No 143, 17 January 2008.

King’s College of London, ‘Independent Study of Security Force Options and Security Sector Reform for East Timor,’ The Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College, London, September 2000.

McCarthy, John, ‘Falintil Reinsertion Assistance Program (FRAP), A Final Evaluation Report,’ (USAID: Dili, East Timor), June 2002.

Rees, Edward, ‘The UN’s failure to integrate FALINTIL veterans may cause East Timor to fail,’ Online Opinion Australia, 2 September 2003.

Sousa-Santos, Jose, ‘Forgotten Heroes or Bandidos? The Last Resistance Generation of Timor-Leste’ [draft research paper], July 2009.

Sydney Morning Herald, ‘East Timor at flashpoint as disillusionment sets in,’ 14 December 2002.

[1] This paper was presented at the RMIT University‘Harii Nasaun iha Timor-Leste Urbanu no Rural’ conference, Dili, 8-10 July 2009, and is based on the research paper, ‘Forgotten Heroes or Bandidos? Timor Leste’s High Risk Youth: The long road to stability.’ [Sousa-Santos, draft, July 2009].

[2] The earliest and most influential of which was the King’s College of London, ‘Independent Study of Security Force Options and Security Sector Reform for East Timor,’ The Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College, London, September 2000. For a recent critique of security sector reform initiatives, see International Crisis Group, ‘Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform,’ Crisis Group Asia Report No 143, 17 January 2008.

[3] Such as the national NGO Uma Juventude

[4] For a critical evaluation of the Falintil Reinsertion Assistance Program, see John McCarthy, Falintil Reinsertion Assistance Program (FRAP), A Final Evaluation Report, (USAID: Dili, East Timor), June 2002.

[5] ‘East Timor at flashpoint as disillusionment sets in,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 2002.

[6] John McCarthy, Falintil Reinsertion Assistance Program (FRAP), A Final Evaluation Report, (USAID: Dili, East Timor), June 2002, ibid. See also, Edward Rees, ‘The UN’s failure to integrate FALINTIL veterans may cause East Timor to fail,’ Online Opinion Australia, 2 September 2003.

[7] International Crisis Group (2003), ‘Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform,’ p.20.
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