28 March 2009

East Timor swears in new police chief

DILI (AFP) — East Timor swore in a civilian Friday as the new head of its deeply factionalised police force, despite criticism from the opposition and some officers that he was unsuitable for the job.

The force is still divided after clashes in 2006 among police and military factions and street gangs that left at least 37 dead.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said that former prosecutor general Longuinhos Montiero, who is taking the job for two years, faced "the difficult and heavy work of picking back up the police."

"I ask for all police to know their responsibilities and obligations to bring this institution forward," Monteiro said.

"I will not tolerate anyone who messes around with discipline and uses their position to dirty the image of this institution," he said.

But the opposition Fretilin party and some police officers criticised the appointment, saying Monteiro was a political choice unsuited to handling the difficult handover from United Nations police to the 3,000-strong local force.

"This is an arbitrary use of power that breaks the law," Fretilin lawmaker Fransisco Branco said.

"We should be placing a person from the police itself as chief and we have to be able to trust them."

East Timor won formal independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a bloody 24-year occupation that killed as many as 200,000 people.

The 2006 unrest, triggered by the desertion of 600 soldiers over claims of discrimination, forced 100,000 people to flee their homes and triggered the return of UN forces.
Image added by ETLJB: An East Timorese woman in distress as police stand by not rendering assistance. Longinhos Monteiro inherits a poorly-trained, corrupt and violent police force that stands accused by HRW of human rights abuses.

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