19 September 2012

Murder in East Timor the result of land dispute

Map of Bobonaro District
ETLJB 19 September 2012 A recent murder in the far western District of Bobonaro in East Timor was the result of a dispute over land.

Member of the East Timor National Parliament for Prime Minister's CNRT party, Jacinto Viegas, told Parliament on 3 September that this was the second time the alleged perpetrator had resorted to killing as a way of settling land disputes, having already being sentenced to four years in prison in 2006 for a homicide similar to this one.

"The deceased's body is in the morgue" said the MP.

The killing emphasises the urgent need to enact land laws in East Timor which, according to the Government, are pending debate in the Parliament.

The MP urged the pending land law be debated and approved as quickly as possible to prevent violence occurring over land disputes.

“Otherwise it will only escalate because everyone wants land,” said the MP.

Rede ba Rai (Land Network) Coordinator, Ines Martins, said these disputes began since the Portuguese occupation and continue to the current day.

According to her, local authorities must be involved when Government sends out survey teams to measure land parcels before issuing titles.

“The Village Chief, families and neighbours must all be present, so rightful ownership can be established. There needs to be a law though so people are clear on the issue, so the land law should be approved,” said Coordinator Martins.

She asked Members of parliament deliberate carefully keeping in mind the injustices which occurred during the periods of Portuguese and Indonesian occupation. Any new land law must take account of all interested parties' interests.

An earlier draft of the land law passed by the Parliament was vetoed by the then President Jose Ramos Horta in March this year because the law was not favourable to the people and he sent it back to the Parliament.

”We should be neutral to protect the people’s land and properties and should guarantee the rights of the landlord and to guarantee the investors who invest in the country,” Horta said at the time. Horta made a comment that the law is good but the MPs need to amend and reform some articles so that it could protect the people’s rights.

He added that some of the articles of the law should be amended in order to benefit the people of the country in the future.

Lucia Lobato, who was the Justice Minister in the IV Constitutional Government who oversaw the drafting of that land law (and who now stands convicted of abuse of power in another matter and is no longer the Justice Minister) said at the time that she was dissatisfied with the President of the Republic, Jose Ramos Horta, because he had vetoed the land law which had been approved by the National Parliament.

She said that she would appear in the Parliament to explain the law in more detail to the parliamentarians.

‘I will appear in the Parliament again to defend this law, because this law benefits all the citizens,” Minister Lobato said.

She added those groups that did not agree with the land law were the people who wanted a law which benefited the people who fled to other countries in 1975 when Indonesia invaded. 

Related stories
President Horta sends land law back to Parliament
Parliament unable to amend the land law
Land disputes a continuing cause of violence in Timor-Leste

An archive of information and reports on land issues in East Timor may be found on the East Timor Land Studies web site.

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