07 January 2010

Calls for East Timor police to disarm

Updated January 6, 2010 11:00:14 East Timor's Chief of Police has suspended an officer while police investigate the shooting death of a 25-year-old man. The incident sparked angry protests on the streets of the capital and some victims advocacy groups are calling for East Timorese police to be disarmed.

Presenter: Stephanie March

Speakers: Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's President; Gyorgy Kakuk, spokesman, UN Mission in East Timor; Francisco Gutteres, East Timor's State Secretary for Security

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MARCH: The day after 25-year-old Baldir Lebre Correia died at a home in Dili, his supporters took to the streets. They wore t-shirts with Mr Correia's image and nickname 'Kuka' printed on the front. The demonstrators chanted and carried banners with messages like "an innocent youth brutally killed by a policeman". East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta responded strongly to the man's death in an interview with the East Timorese newspaper and online broadcaster Tempo Semanal.

HORTA: There cannot be leniency when it comes to issues of discipline. Any police officer or army soldier who misrepresents his or her uniform with indiscipline, with abuse, use weapons - not only threatened people but shooting at people for absolutely no reason - there cannot be any flexibility on that they must be summarily fired.

MARCH: President Ramos Horta met with the dead man's family the day after the shooting. He says the state should be prepared to pay compensation if police officers act inappropriately. One police officer has been suspended from duty over the incident. The spokesman for the United Nations mission in East Timor, Gyorgy Kakuk, says two investigations are under way.

KAKUK: There is an ongoing internal inquiry to see exactly what has happened that goes within the police system. And there is a criminal case which has already been handed over to the public prosecutor.

MARCH: Like many East Timorese who lived through the brutal Indonesian occupation, the dead man was no stranger to violence and guns. He was one of the youngest survivors of a massacre in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991, when Indonesian troops opened fire on thousands of young East Timorese, killing many. In the wake of Mr Correia's death, victims advocacy groups are calling for police to be disarmed before they attend public disturbances and only be allowed to carry tear gas and batons. East Timor's State Secretary for Security Francisco Gutteres says many of the police that patrol the streets of Dili are unarmed. He says for those who do carry guns, the policy is that police should only use weapons as a last resort.

GUTTERES: Weapons is the last resort. This is a policy that was established. Now we look at the implementions and how could implement that policy effectively. Then maybe we look at the training. We see maybe we need more training because this is a police force that is only 10 years old, so we need a bit more time in terms of getting these things done.

MARCH: A representative for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in East Timor said in the year July 2008 to July 2009 there were too many incidents of police using excessive force during arrests. However, the overall number of alleged human rights violations by East Timorese police has been declining. Mr Gutteres says police disciplinary measures and the criminal justice system are getting better at dealing with incidents.

GUTTERES: In the recent month we have dismissed seven police officers, one including a high level commander of a district, he was dismissed.

MARCH: East Timor's police force is in the process of introducing a new merit-based promotion system, that Mr Gutteres hopes will encourage officers to do the right thing.

GUTTERES: We take into account disciplinary issues as the most important element of the promotion. And at least this give some impact. And it discourage many of the police officers to act beyond the rules and regulations established.

MARCH: The United Nations has had responsibly for security in East Timor since 2006, when the police and military engaged in bloody conflict. The U-N is now almost half way through the process of handing responsibly to local forces district by district, and unit by unit. The United Nations say they hope the hand over will be complete by the end of 2010.


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