A survey of gangs and youth groups in the capital city of East Timor in 2006 provides a brief history of the problem of gang violence in the city and throughout the countryside.(1) According to this survey, communal violence and gang warfare, in particular between rival martial arts groups, have long been present in East Timor. Gangs and militias were deployed as a means of repression throughout both the Portuguese and Indonesian periods. In the post-independence era, there have been persistent clashes between gangs that have presented a chronic problem for the rule of law. The survey reported the existence of between 15 and 20 martial arts groups with a registered membership of 20,000 – almost all of whom are young males.
The alignment of some martial arts groups with political factions fed into and escalated the disintegration of law and order in 2006 and the infiltration of these groups into the security forces has further exacerbated the problem. The link between political parties and some of the gangs is well established, although few are willing to talk about it openly, let alone acknowledge that politicians have paid young people to commit crimes. PSHT (Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate – Lotus Faithful Heart Brotherhood) originated in Indonesia, and has branches in most of East Timor's districts. The gang is widely perceived as being close to the Democrat Party and the Social Democratic Party, and is believed to have heavily infiltrated the security forces. PSHT is also in open rivalry with another martial arts group, Korka, aligned with Fretilin, the country's main political party. It is not that the political parties have formal links with the youth gangs but there are, for example, some important Korka leaders in Dili who are also Fretilin members. At the local level, there are also members of Korka who are members of Fretilin.
Senior members of the East Timor National Police (PNTL) are also members of or control gangs. A key problem with the PNTL is that some of its members moonlight for the gangs, for political parties, or for other groups which command a higher degree of loyalty than the institution of the national police force. For example, the Baucau PNTL district commander was allegedly a member of the Kera Sakti martial arts group which is battling PSHT (who, on the other hand, apparently count a local PNTL sub-district commander as a member in their ranks) for dominance in the city.(1A) Former Dili police district commander, Abilio Mesquito ("Mausoko"), is also suspected of being a member of PSHT and actively particpated in the 2006 violence. Mesquito was jailed for his part in an attack on the residence of F-FDTL Commander Taur Matan Ruak's during the 2006 crisis.
In an effort to address the social problem of gang-related violence, the Parliament of East Timor enacted Law No.10/2008 of 16 July on the practice of martial arts. This law was approved by the Parliament on 23 June 2008 and promulgated by the President on 4 July 2008. Published on 16 July 2008, the statute came into force 60 days subsequently; namely, on 14 September 2008. Read the full article...
East Timor Law Journal - Towards the rule of law in Timor-Leste.