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Timor Leste - Breakout of violence in run up to parliamentary elections

Updated On: Jun 05, 2007

After having a relatively peaceful presidential election on May 9 this year, Timor Leste or East TimorAsia’s youngest and poorest nation is facing more challenging situation ahead of the parliamentary vote, which will be held on June 30.

A campaign worker for East Timor independence hero Xanana Gusmao was shot dead during campaigning in Viqueque town, about 100 kilometers of the capital, Dili. An off-duty police officer was believed to be the attacker. On Sunday (3 Jun), there was a stone-pelting attack on Xanana’s motorcade, also in Viqueque. On Thursday (31 May), a hand grenade blast killed a man and wounded three others, while supporters of rival candidates clashed with machetes and rocks elsewhere in the country, wounding a dozen people.

Earlier in end of May, an East Timor police officer was shot and wounded in Alas, an area where police believe fugitive soldier Major Alfredo Reinado and his men are hiding. Alfredo Reinado, who commands support from frustrated groups from East Timor's west, has previously been blamed in part for last year's unrest, after he and others led 600 soldiers to desert the army over claims of discrimination.

Violence has erupted sporadically in the tiny nation since 2006 when a fugitive soldier Major Alfredo Reinado led a “revolt” leading to the resignation of then Prime Minister, Alkatiri.  During the presidential run-off election,  political clashes and street fights between machete-wielding rival gangs in East Timor have left one person dead and injured more than 20 people.

East Timor, which broke from Indonesian rule in a UN-sponsored 1999 ballot, had been heralded as a success in nation-building until a rift in the police and armed forces escalated into gunbattles, looting, arson and gang warfare just over a year ago. The violence killed 37 people and drove 155,000 from their homes. The Fretilin party was in power when violence erupted last year.

The victory of Jose Ramos Horta in the presidential elections, defeating the head of Fretilin, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, has raised hopes of stability. However more than 3,000 international police officers and soldiers remain stationed in the country to maintain peace and order. His predecessor, Xanana Gusmao is now running for the prime minister post. Xanana’s new party, C-N-R-T, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction aims to loosen the grip of East Timor's biggest party Fretilin.

Political commentators have expressed fear that efforts by Xanana and Ramos-Horta to sideline Fretilin - which was the traditional party of resistance to Indonesian rule and currently holds a majority of seats in the legislature - could lead to more bloodshed.

Atul Khare head of the United Nations mission in the country said he was hopeful that recent calls by major political leaders denouncing violence would ensure peaceful parliamentary elections. He noted that though there are continued reports of violence, the incidents are generally "isolated." "The biggest challenge will be in fact immediately after the parliament election, the process of government formation," he said. "I hope that whatever will be the results, the results will be both acceptable and, indeed, accepted by the population at large so that the country can move forward," he said.

Meanwhile, Ramos-Horta is due to make his first official international trip and his office has said the inaugural three-day trip indicates Indonesia is one of his top priorities. Border control, friendship, truth and education are all set to be tabled in a meeting next Tuesday (12 Jun) with Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta. Ramos-Horta said his visit to Indonesia showed the importance of good bilateral relations for both countries.  (4 June 2007)

Sources:

Campaigner for Xanana killed ahead of elections (Jakarta Post, 4 June 2007)

Mob attack Xanana's motorcade in East Timor, 1 killed elsewhere (Jakarta Post, 3 June 2007)

U.N. envoy says East Timor faces 'challenging' parliamentary' elections (Jakarta Post, 3 June 2007)

Ramos-Horta to make Jakarta first official visit (Jakarta Post, 2 June 2007)

One killed in East Timor amid political tension (Antara, 4 June 2007)

Reinado`s lawyer denies Indonesia asylum bid  (Antara, 2 June 2007)

E. Timor PM vows action after election violence (Antara, 1 June 2007)

East Timor police officer shot in ambush  (Antara, 27 May 2007)

Four people injured in East Timor violence (Reuters, 30 May 2007)