13 March 2014

Timor-Leste Strikes Troubling New Weapons Deal with Indonesia, says Fundasaun Mahein

ETLJB 13/03/2014 - A report published by the leading security sector monitoring non-government organisation in East Timor, Fundasaun Mahein says that East Timor has struck a troubling new weapons deal with its former occupier, Indonesia. The text of the report follows.

On Monday (February 10, 2014) Timorese Prime Minister and Defense Minister Xanana Gusmao met with Indonesian Defense Minister Poernomo Yusgiantoro to sign a defense memorandum of understanding meant to boost security and defense ties between the two nations.  One major provision of the agreement is Timor-Leste’s intention to purchase more weapons from the Indonesian state-owned defense corporation PT. Pindad.

This deal is just the latest in Timor-Leste’s increasing reliance on Indonesia for military equipment.  In 2012 Timor-Leste made a large-scale weapons purchase from PT. Pindad in a backroom deal that turned out poorly; the weapons produced by the Indonesian company were of poor quality and many malfunctioned after only limited use.  In the same year, the government also planned to purchase tanks and armored personnel carriers from the same company.  Once again the process lacked transparency and reports surfaced that the military vehicles were of poor quality.       

Fundasaun Mahein (FM) is troubled by Timor-Leste’s growing dependence on Indonesia for military supplies.  Allowing Indonesia to become Timor-Leste’s primary weapons supplier is a bad decision for a number of reasons.  The first reason is simply that the products produced by the PT. Pindad company are of very suspicious quality. Why would Timor-Leste continue to do business with a company that has already sold us malfunctioning and substandard military equipment?

It is also important to note that weapons produced by PT. Pindad have fallen into the hands of terrorist groups operating in Indonesia as well as in Mindanao, Phillipines. Whether or not these groups received these weapons because of the company’s negligence in screening its customers is unclear.  Regardless, the apparently vast availability of these weapons presents a security threat to Timor-Leste.  Ascertaining responsibility for violence will be more difficult if both Timorese security forces and criminal or terrorist factions are using the same weapons.

This security threat is heightened further when considering the dismal track record Timorese defense forces have displayed for controlling their own weapons.  Despite numerous cases of weapons abuse and weapons “misplacement” by security force members, Timor-Leste still has yet to implement a weapons control and auditing system to monitor the weapons it purchases.  Without such a safeguard, there is always the threat that weapons will be misused or fall into the wrong hands.

FM also questions the morality of buying weapons from a military that was very recently responsible for numerous acts of atrocity against the people of Timor-Leste.  Many of the same soldiers and leaders responsible for human rights abuses against the people of Timor during the Indonesian occupation are still in the Indonesian army, and continue to be promoted through the ranks with the full support of the Indonesian army.  A couple of the more high profile acts committed by Indonesian soldiers include the 1978 assassination of Timor’s beloved late President Nicolau Lobato, and the infamous Santa Cruz massacre in 1991. The perpetrators never received justice.  Furthermore, to this day the Indonesian Army refuses to return the bodily remains of Nicolau Lobato to his homeland to be buried where he belongs.

How can the Timorese government, in good faith, purchase weapons from an army responsible for decades of suppression and subjugation of its people?  Have our leaders already forgotten about the injustices committed against the Timorese people at the hands of the Indonesian army?  Of course Timor-Leste should put past conflicts behind it, but FM maintains that the future should be written in an honorable way, with respect and consideration for the recent history of this nation.

It is unthinkable that the perpetrators of human rights abuses against our nation should now make profits at the expense of the Timorese people.  Surely Timor-Leste can pursue far better options in its weapons procurement search than PT. Pindad.  FM urges the government and the Ministry of Defense to seek out another weapons supplier who can provide high-quality weapons and a true partnership with Timorese defense forces. Source: Fundasaun Mahein 17/02/2014

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