01 August 2013

Government takes land on Atauro Island to establish military security posts

ETLJB 01 August 2013 - The government is taking land on the island of Atauro off the coast of Dili to establish military security posts so that the armed forces can better control illegal fishing in the Timor Sea according to an English translation of a report on Televizaun Timor-Leste on 29 July 2013.

Speaking to journalists, the State Secretary for Defense, Julio Thomas Pinto, said that the government had identified space for constructing the security posts and that the Land Property Directorate was currently measuring land for the construction.

Mr. Pinto called on communities in the island to collaborate with the defence force in order to facilitate the construction of the posts.

Meanhile, F-FDTL Commander, Major General Lere Anan Timur, said the deployment of his soldiers in Atauro would help control activities in the country’s sea.

“We have found space to construct security posts as what we have said that Oe-Cusse and Atauro are the same status and it is about the country’s sovereignty,” Lere said.

It is not recorded in the translation of the report whether the land is land that belongs to the communities on Atauro Island or whether it is state land claimed by the government pursuant to its succession to the lands claimed as state land during the Indonesian or Portuguese occupations. In any event, neither of the foreign occupying forces of East Timor acknowledged or respected the communal or customary individualised land rights anywhere throughout the territory even though no land in East Timor was ever terra nullius (empty land belonging to no one). The occupying powers simply disregarded customary land rights and granted state-based land rights to those it deemed worthy or appropriated the land to the state itself - all without just compensation for the extinguishment of pre-existing indigenous land tenure systems.

As there is no due process for such acquisitions, in disregard of the applicable Indonesian laws regulating the acquisition of land in the public interest under which compensation is payable to land owners (whether individuals or communities), the owners of land taken by the state have little or no bargaining power when their land is taken. The lack of juridical status of communal land tenure systems permits the arbitrary taking of communal land by the state.

During the UNTAET period when the defence force headquarters were established at Metinaro, the government's land surveyors were confronted by members of the community who owned that land armed with weapons and the police and defence force personnel were deployed to quell resistance to the taking of the community land in that instance. Faced with the armed force of the state, the community had to surrender their land for some bags of rice; hardly just compensation.

Subsequent acquisitions and resumptions have followed this pattern and will continue until there is a just legal framework within which the taking of land by the state in the public interest is enacted by the Parliament.

The second problematical aspect of this security base is that it is intended for the purpose of the military to combat illegal fishing in the territorial waters of East Timor. The unconstitutional deployment of the military to enforce the civil law has been an all-too-common phenomenon in East Timor. The enforcement of the civil law is the role and function of the police. The confusion of the roles of the military and the police force raises serious problems for the rule of law as Wilson describes in her paper Joint Command for PNTL and F-FDTL Undermines Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform in Timor-Leste.

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Community land in East Timor - A New Tragedy of the Commons? 
Community Land in East Timor: Compensation for Acquisition for Public Purposes
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Land Disputes: From the Security Perspective
Mass executive evictions in Dili as government plans airport extension
Land use, practice and tenure in south central East Timor: some illustrations

 Source: TLMDC translation of report on TVTL 29/07/2013. Edited by Warren L. Wright
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