ETLJB 10 November 2011 - Suara Timor Lorosae reported on 8 November 2012 that four persons suspected of involvement in the recent murder of six people in Atabae over a land dispute on 25 October 2012 are now in preventative detention. Another suspect is still on the loose but the Bobonaro District police are continuing efforts to find and arrest him.
In the terrifying attack, a group of people entered two hoses in Atabae sub-district in Bobonar and hacked 10 people with machetes killing six, including an infant, and leaving four seriously wounded.
Land disputes have been a chronic cause of conflict and violence in East Timor since the restoration of independence in 2002 with several murders and assaults occurring in recent months.
The land law drafted under the administration of the now-disgraced Justice Minister, Lucia Lobato, who was sentenced earlier this year for abuse of power, and which was intended to address the land problem, was vetoed by the then President Horta because he considered that it was not a fair piece of legislation in so far as it did not take into account the needs of the people.
So long as there is uncertainty of tenure and an absence of a dedicated dispute resolution mechanism as well as a comprehensive legal framework to resolve land title ownership that includes fair compensation for those losing titles when the land law is eventually enacted and implemented, land conflicts will continue to threaten the civil peace in East Timor.
A critical part of the problem is the land holdings of the political elite whose families enjoyed the indulgences of the Portuguese colonial administration and who acquired large tracts of land that were occupied by the people when those elites fled East Timor in advance of the Indonesian invasion. Those elites who returned and many of whom now control the state apparatus want that land back but, as one Timorese man commented to this autor some years ago, "if they try to take it back, we will kill them".
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Author: Warren L. Wright BA LLB; Former UNTAET Property Rights Adviser; Former International Land Law Adviser to the Indonesian Land Administration Project; Fomer Senior Legal Officer, NSW Land Titles Office