BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      homeMay news

"Continuing instability (largely due to the behaviour of militias, and Armed Forces and Government of Indonesia) has forced the international community and the Timorese to shift from their original position that the territory should not have armed forces. By the end of 2001, only 600 members of the ETDF will have been trained, which means that the presence of international military and observers will have to continue, until militias in West Timor are disbanded, disarmed, and their members brought to trial." East Timor Observatory

We should all understand that Liberation of the Fatherland is only half the objective of independence.
After independence, Liberation of the People constitutes the other half of the objective of independence.
(Xanana Gusmão, 1999)

East Timor Observatory

Ref: DEF01-17/05/2001eng

Subject: East Timor Defence Force: the price of security

The Facts


After the Timorese voted for independence, the UN Security Council decided to send an international military intervention force to the territory. It did not, however, give the UN force a clearly defined mandate, and its mission was subsequently interpreted in different ways. This resulted in the Timorese armed resistance fighters being marginalised, and delays in decision-making about the territory’s future defence forces. Eventually, good sense prevailed, and the FALINTIL were called upon to form the core of the new armed forces.


The FALINTIL were formed on 20 August 1975 as the armed wing of FRETILIN, at the time of the civil war. Since the outset of Indonesian military occupation in December 1975, FALINTIL led military operations against the invading army from bases set up in the mountains of East Timor. In 1987, under the command of Xanana Gusmão, the guerrilla army reorganised, became non-partisan, and was the very symbol of popular struggle, not only for FRETILIN but of all pro-independence political tendencies.  When the 5 May 1999 agreements were reached, the guerrillas halted their operations after 24 years of battling against the oppressor. In view of the presence of armed groups, both pro-autonomy (militias) and pro-independence (FALINTIL), UNAMET (UN mission responsible for overseeing the popular consultation) set up a Peace and Stability Commission, through which the right conditions for an intimidation-free electoral process could be created. On 18 June in Jakarta, a code of conduct, to which both sides were to adhere during and after the consultation process, was signed. Under the terms of the code, armed forces were committed to assemble in designated areas and surrender weapons before the popular consultation. FALINTIL decided, unilaterally, to send its troops to cantonment bases in four areas of the territory, but refused to surrender their weapons until the Indonesian military contingent was smaller and remaining Indonesian soldiers were confined to barracks in the territory. As the registration phase began, guerrilla fighters assembled in the cantonment points, as was verified by military observers. In spite of all the provocation to which they were subjected by the Indonesian military and militias during the post-referendum period, the FALINTIL, in an admirable display of discipline, rallied to the no retaliation appeal from their Commander-in-Chief, Xanana Gusmão, and remained in the cantonments, which were later reduced to Aileu, until the FALINTIL’s dissolution and integration in the East Timor Defence Force in February 2001.

The Facts:

FALINTIL and INTERFET: an undefined mandate

1. Resolution 1272, 25 October, calls on UNTAET to “establish security and maintain peace and order throughout the territory of East Timor”, adding nothing further.

2. The ambiguity of the mandate led to different interpretations of Resolution 1272: “The policy is that we disarm any East Timorese who are not in TNI [Indonesian armed forces]…we disarm them all”; Xanana reacted by saying that the FALINTIL should not be regarded as “a group of bandits”.  “Disarming people of any political or military persuasion in East Timor is part of INTERFET’s mandate”, said its spokesman, Colonel Duncan Lewis; “What the Security Council meeting in New York discussed was the killings, the destruction of East Timor by the Indonesian army and the militias. (...) It did not adopt a resolution to disarm FALINTIL”, replied José Ramos Horta.  With regard to protecting the East Timorese people from pro-Indonesia militias, the Colonel said it was: “clearly the responsibility of INTERFET”.
Ramos Horta agreed, but pointed out that INTERFET was still not doing so:
“What we propose is that it engages in dialogue with Xanana Gusmão, the resistance leader, accelerates the deployment of INTERFET, and the creation of the UN transition authority, creates a new East Timorese security force, and then, yes, we can talk about disarmament. (...) If you disarm FALINTIL now, INTERFET will lose completely the trust of the people of East Timor” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5-10-99).

3. In November, a group of FALINTIL members was stopped and disarmed by INTERFET in the District of Bobonaro. Xanana Gusmão travelled from Aileu to Dili escorted by FALINTIL rather than his normal INTERFET security escort, as had been agreed. General Cosgrove considered this a “clear violation of policy related to our mandate...” but defused the situation, describing it as a “small incident” (Lusa, 19-11-99).

4. The UN, INTERFET, FALINTIL and Xanana agreed to the disarming of 55 guerrillas and their subsequent integration in a civilian security force that would undertake unarmed protection work in Dili. “This is the first step of an element of FALINTIL that is going to reintegrate into East Timorese society with a good job and we are very pleased that this step has been taken”, said Colonel Mark Kelly, but Xanana made it clear that this was not the solution he wanted for his fighters (Straits Times, 27-11-99). In the views of both Gusmão and Ramos Horta, the FALINTIL should be part of the future defence force: “When the new defence structure of East Timor is defined, they will be the first ones interviewed..” (Lusa, 6-12-99).

5. Some veterans began to return to their families, but Commander Lere insisted that FALINTIL’s aim was to continue to serve the people and, for this reason, they were recruiting younger people. FALINTIL leaders saw the changeover from the peacekeeping force to a UN peacekeeping command as a good opportunity to negotiate a more active role for their forces: “We will propose we have a policing role and we must also be allowed to carry our arms, as we have done for the last 24 years”. The departing INTERFET commander, Gen. Peter Cosgrove, said he was optimistic: “FALINTIL should be honoured and engaged. They deserve respect. (…) The UN can’t just brush them aside. An honourable compromise can be reached.” (Deutsch Press- Agentur, 4-2-00)

· UNTAET/PKF - FALINTIL marginalized in cantonments

6. On 23 February 2000, INTERFET formally transferred command over to the UNTAET/PKF.

7. UNTAET and CNRT hold their first talks on the future of the FALINTIL.
Vieira de Mello admitted conditions at their cantonment in Aileu were “ghastly” as, in contrast to the rest of the population, they were not receiving humanitarian aid. He promised immediate UN help to improve food supplies and sanitation. (SMH, 16-3-00)
7b FALINTIL field commander Taur Matan Ruak, [Xanana Gusmão was Commander-in-Chief], pointed out that “INTERFET turned over its mandate to the PKF” and asked: “Who will PKF turn the mandate over to?” “One day they will leave, and we must be prepared to keep the peace” (Asia Week, 17-3-00).  The UN, however, maintained that all irregular forces would have to disarm and disband (item)
7c In view of the security situation and the legacy of the post-ballot violence, the CNRT decided that a national defence force was necessary, whether it were an armed police or a French-style gendarmerie, and that UNTAET’s mandate should, if necessary, be revised to include such a role for FALINTIL. (SMH, 16-3-00).
7d -Xanana Gusmão wrote to Kofi Annan outlining the territory’s determination to transform the former guerrilla force into the nucleus of a future defence force. The letter referred to a security force that included naval and air components rather than a police force (Lusa 28-4-00). This shift in position, which caused some surprise in New York, was the result of a worsening security situation in terms of militia incursions from the Indonesian side.

8. In what was to be the first official sign that the former guerrilla force might provide the core of a future East Timorese defence force, 4 FALINTIL members were appointed liaison officers in three military sectors and at central command headquarters in Dili. “We cannot be seen to leave East Timor in a total security vacuum”, “They need to be able to start and develop their future security force, and FALINTIL could be the core of this group”, said Col. Nymo, PKF spokesman (SMH, 11-5-00).

9. In a bid to tackle increasing discipline problems among former FALINTIL guerrillas - the result of their marginalisation and lack of prospects for the future - FALINTIL’s leadership adopted a reorganisation plan that included the break-up of Fifth Company (led by Commander Ely Fohorai Boot, also leader of a group called “Holy Family”), and reassignment of its members to four other companies. Some former guerrillas rejected the plan (UNTAET, 31-5-00).

10. An incident involving two FALINTIL members in Dili led to a group of about 60 of them leaving cantonment to seek revenge. Although they had set out unarmed and were intercepted in time by CivPol and PKF, the incident was a sign of the growing discontent and break-down of discipline in the cantonment. As a result, an incident management team was set up, led by the PKF Chief of Operations and comprising representatives from UNTAET’s political affairs, CivPol, FALINTIL and UN Military Observers (UNTAET Daily Briefing, 21-6-00). At the Lisbon Donors’ Conference, Xanana Gusmão warned that the FALINTIL were “almost in a state of revolt”: “If we continue to offer no support for the FALINTIL, relegating them to a subhuman existence, we will all pay a high political and social price” (AP, 22-6-00). Vieira de Mello confirmed, in his address at the UN Security Council meeting that, although the FALINTIL were still disciplined, they were showing signs of growing impatience because they were not working and there was uncertainty about their future (UN Security Council, 27-6-00).

11. “The main problem [affecting FALINTIL members] is that humanitarian organisations have a principle, which is not to assist combatants”, said S.  Vieira de Mello. On the other hand, “Security Council resolution 1272 ...  does not mention disarming the FALINTIL or demobilising them or transforming them into something new” (ABC, 29-6-00).

· What future for the FALINTIL ?

12. On the 25th anniversary of the FALINTIL, Xanana stated that the future National Defence Force would adopt a stance of non-aggression as its core principle, and look into cooperation agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and ASEAN member states and with friendly countries like Portugal, the UK, US, Brazil, and others. Professionalism and sustainability, he said, were two key factors: professionalism required military men to abstain from belonging or extending support to political forces, groups involved in economic activities or any organisation of a social nature; sustainability was vital because of the characteristics of a country like Timor, that lacked the economic infrastructures to maintain the costs of its armed forces (CNRT, 20-8-00).
12b - Vieira de Mello announced that 1,500 FALINTIL members could form the nucleus of the future armed forces, and that he had received a letter from Kofi Annan in which the UNSG recognised the “past, present and future” role of the FALINTIL (SMH, 21-8-00).
12c - Although they acknowledged the need to form a national defence force, the Timorese leadership, particularly foreign “minister” José Ramos Horta, was insistent that diplomacy should be their best defence: “(…) more important than an army, we must develop the closest possible relations with countries in the region” (SMH, 8-6-00).

13. Cross-border attacks by militias were on the increase. The atmosphere of fear in which East Timorese were living, and the PKF’s inability to identify militia groups, exacerbated the FALINTIL veterans’ frustration, as they continued to be confined to the cantonments. “FALINTIL knows the terrain better than anyone else, certainly better than our troops” said Vieira de Mello (AP, 29-8-00). Ramos Horta raised the possibility of FALINTIL members leaving the cantonment areas to seek out militias (SMH, 30-8-00).

14. The number of FALINTIL liaison officers in the PKF increased from 10 to 67, in order to provide support to all districts except Oecussi (UNTAET Daily Briefing, 5-9-00). In view of high levels of militia activity, UNTAET suspended a planned reduction of the military component (UN SC, 20-1-01).

15. Lack of directives from the Security Council on the future security forces of East Timor led the UN to accept a British Government proposal for an independent study. The Centre for Defence Studies of King’s College in London was asked to undertake the study. On 7 July, a team of experts from Germany, South Africa, Mozambique and the US arrived in Dili with a mandate to produce a report within 6 weeks on the future security of the territory (UNTAET Daily Briefing, 5-7-00). The study found that “the FALINTIL feel marginalized” (Far Eastern Economic Review, 21-9-00).

16. The study concluded that there are three possible options:
1) A force of 3,000-5,000 troops based on the core of the former resistance, the balance being made up of conscripts - the option closest to the FALINTIL’s own vision of national defence;
2) A professional regular core of 1,500 men, supported by an equal number of conscripts doing a year of national service;
3) A force of 3,000 regulars, about half being former FALINTIL soldiers, and 1,500 volunteer reservists. This was regarded in the report as being the best option in terms of the territory’s defence needs and sustainable cost (Jane’s Intelligence Review, 1-11-00)

· The formation of the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF)

17. a - The Transitional Cabinet of East Timor approved Option III of the King’s College study (UNTAET Briefing,12-9-00). A donors’ conference held in Dili, attended by 12 countries, discussed help to be given to East Timor in developing its future defence force. Training recruits for the force should start in January 2001 (UNTAET, web 24-11-00). Portugal and Australia emerged as the major suppliers of weapons, military training and logistics (Inter Press Service, 17-1-01), while Thailand proposed a border village self-defence scheme (Bangkok Post, 16-1-01). Australia would contribute AUS$26 million and provide “specialist training” towards which Canberra would donate AUS$12.5 million over 5 years. Australia would supply 360 M16 assault rifles (AAP, 2-2-01). Basic training would be conducted by Portugal, who agreed to help build up the defence force’s marine element, including military training for naval crews and spares, maintenance and other support for the patrol boats (Inter Press Service, 17-1-01).  b - The East Timor Cabinet set up an Office of Defence Force Development (UNTAET, 20-12-00) to operate within ETTA [East Timor Transitional Administration]. It will supervise and coordinate all activities connected with the development of the defence force, as well as with bilateral and multilateral relations (UNTAET, 2-2-01)

18. The National Council (NC, which functions as a provisional mini-parliament) was asked to adopt a regulation that set a timetable for the dissolving of the FALINTIL and the formation of the ETDF. The draft regulation had been approved by the ET Transitional Cabinet on 17 January.  At a session in which 18 of its 36 members were present, the NC discussed and adopted the regulation on 29 Janeiro 2001, thus creating the legal basis for the establishment of the ETDF on 1 February. The decision-making process involved was condemned by the National NGO Forum of East Timor, which claimed that the NC had been pressured to adopt the regulation in a very short period of time (UNTAET Daily Briefing, 29-1-01 and NGO Forum, 29-1-01).

19. The new ETDF would consist of two branches: army and navy, having a total of 3,000 members, 1,500 regulars (with a phased approach reach that number over three years) and 1,500 reservists (called up regularly for training). The first battalion will consist of 650 FALINTIL members, who have already been selected (UNTAET, 31-1-01). [600 men for the army and 36 for the navy, according the Taur Matan Ruak, FALINTIL Commander and Commander-in-Chief of the new defence force (BBC, 25-12-00) ].

20. A FALINTIL Veterans’ Association was established by the ETTA [ET Transitional Administration] to be the trustee and depositary of the heritage of FALINTIL (UNTAET Daily Briefing, 31-1-01).

21. On 1 February, FALINTIL was formally dissolved, making way for the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF), at a ceremony during which the FALINTIL flag was lowered and replaced temporarily by the UN flag. Former guerrillas would not automatically become part of the ETDF; they would have to choose to do so and go through a selection process. The Classification and Selection process involved: a medical examination and sensorial tests, psycho-technical tests and interviews. On 28 January, 650 men were selected and recruited from among 1,736 applicants. For the following battalion, the recruitment process would be open to men and women over 18 years (UNTAET, 2-2-01). The dissolution of the FALINTIL was condemned by the OJETIL [youth organisation] as a betrayal of those who had fought for Timorese liberation (Suara Timor Lorosae, 1-2-01).

22. The purpose of the ETDF would be to ensure military defence for people and territory, to stop cross-border incursions by militias and to dissuade aggressors. It could also assist in emergencies and natural disaster situations (idem). Until independence, the territory’s defence and security would be the PKF’s responsibility.

23. Military training, scheduled to commence in January, would start with 200 men. By the end of 2001, 600 members of the ETDF were expected to have received training (Lusa, 22-11-00).

24. FALINTIL Reinsertion Assistance Programme (FRAP)
· The IOM launched a 1-year programme designed to reintegrate around 1,050 former FALINTIL guerrillas into civilian life. The US$108,000 project is being financed by USAID and the World Bank (IOM, 12-12-00). The FRAP would be administered by IOM in Dili and supported by IOM district sub-offices in Aileu, Batugade, Suai, Oecussi, Baucau, Viqueque e Lospalos. A veteran’s liaison officer network would also assist in the reintegration efforts (Idem, 2-2-01). The IOM expects that 5,250 people (including veteran fighters and relatives) would benefit from the programme (IOM web, 6-2-01).
· The FRAP consists of 4 phases:
a) Stage I- Cantonment and registration: identification and verification of guerrillas’ identity, issuance of ID card and development of a database through gathering socio-economic information, such as age, education level, qualifications, health and family structure. The WFP is responsible for food and water distribution and for ensuring adequate sanitation;
b) Stage II- Discharge and departure. This includes assembly and arms storage, health screening, pre-discharge orientation, discharge procedures, and transportation to the communities of choice. The WFP provides a food package (20kg of canned fish and 5 litres of oil) for the discharged veterans to return to their communities;
c) Stage III- Reinsertion into the community and a transitional safety net of US$100 per month for the first 5 months after discharge to meet basic needs;
d) Stage IV- Reintegration and sustainable livelihoods. This consists of a training and start-up package that includes materials necessary for self-sufficiency in crop or livestock farming, fishing or micro enterprise.  The FRAP will also help veterans to get access to land, vocational training, community assistance and educational grants.
· Although IOM Dili Chief of Mission Christopher  Gascon acknowledged that retraining the veterans for income-generating civilian occupations could be difficult, he believed that the process of reinsertion into their communities would be comparatively easy: “FALINTIL members command enormous respect in East Timor.(…) They also have strong family ties in their communities” (idem). This view is not shared by Brigadier-General Ruak:
“Some have lost their families, some have not got married because of the fighting and some have nothing at all - no clothes, no furniture” (AAP, 1-12-00).
· Under stage III of the FRAP, 718 FALINTIL veterans were returned to their communities. Some resented their exclusion from the new ETDF, but said that, as soldiers, they would obey orders. Others were happier: Afonso Ximenes, who spent 2 years with FALINTIL, hoped to return to university, but was worried about older veterans: “We’re young and can start our lives again.  But it will be very difficult for them”. Veteran Adelino da Costa Tilman, wanted to go back to farming, the work he left 16 years ago to join FALINTIL: “but that was a long time ago and everything’s changed” (IOM web, 6-2-01).
· 994 of the 1,093 FRAP participants have already registered with IOM and have been issued with identity cards, food packages and the first of five US$100 payments. Participants are mainly concentrated in Ermera (258), Baucau (181), Viqueque (132) e Lospalos (104). In the second week of February, the project’s steering committee met for the first time. It comprises representatives of IOM, World Bank, USAID, UN Military Observers and PKF, and will oversee the project, which includes transitional financial support and retraining for the former guerrillas (IOM Press Briefing, 16-02-01).

· East Timor’s main guarantee of security should be its diplomacy. However, in view of the slow pace of democratic progress in Indonesia, and the strained relationship between the two countries, international diplomacy should continue to bring pressure to bear to ensure that a balance is maintained.
· Continuing instability (largely due to the behaviour of militias, and Armed Forces and Government of Indonesia) has forced the international community and the Timorese to shift from their original position that the territory should not have armed forces. By the end of 2001, only 600 members of the ETDF will have been trained, which means that the presence of international military and observers will have to continue, until militias in West Timor are disbanded, disarmed, and their members brought to trial..
· Maintaining a 3,000-strong defence force - almost one third of the total number of East Timor’s future civil servants - will incur considerable expenditure for the new country and diminish the resources that could be otherwise spent in different areas of service and administration.  International responsibility in the transition process should not ignore this.

Note: Documents and information relating to this subject have been compiled by the East Timor Observatory in a 50-page thematic Dossier entitled “Defence” Ref: DEF01,compiled between 29-09-1999 and 09-04-2001 . The Dossier and/or further information may be ordered from the East Timor Observatory.

Observatory for the monitoring of East Timor's transition process a programme by the 'Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere'
Coordinator: Cláudia Santos 
Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 77 2ºE -  1069-069     Lisboa - Portugal
ph.: 351 1 317 28 60  -  fax: 351 1 317 28 70  -  e-mail:

Observatório Timor Leste  Updated Jan 25
Duas Organizações Não Governamentais portuguesas, a COMISSÃO PARA OS DIREITOS DO POVO MAUBERE (CDPM) e o grupo ecuménico A PAZ É POSSÍVEL EM TIMOR LESTE que, desde o início da década de oitenta, se solidarizam com a causa do Povo de Timor Leste, tomaram a decisão de criar o OBSERVATÓRIO TIMOR LESTE. A vocação do Observatório Timor Leste é, no quadro das recentes alterações do regime de Jacarta face a Timor Leste, o acompanhamento, a nível internacional, do processo negocial e, no interior do território, do inevitável período de transição que se anuncia.
correio electrónico:  URL:

East Timor Observatory  Updated Jan 25
ETO was set up by two Portuguese NGOs - the Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People (CDPM) and the ecumenical group Peace is Possible in East Timor,  which have been involved in East Timor solidarity work since the early eighties. The aim of the Observatory was to monitor East Timor's transition process, as well as the negotiating process and its repercussions at international level, and the developments in the situation inside the territory itself.
E-mail:  Homepage:

Observatoire Timor-Oriental  Updated Jan 25
Deux Organisations Non Gouvernementales portugaises, la ‘Commission pour les Droits du Peuple Maubere’ et l’association oecuménique "La Paix est Possible au Timor Oriental", qui se solidarisent avec la cause du peuple du Timor Oriental depuis le début des années 80, ont pris la décision de créer un OBSERVATOIRE TIMOR ORIENTAL. La vocation de cet observatoire est d’accompagner le processus de transition du Timor Oriental, aussi bien le processus de négociation que ses répercussions au niveau international et l’évolution de la situation à l’intérieur du territoire.
courrier électronique:  URL:

BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      homeMay news
Website:  Email:
Postal address: BACK DOOR GPO Box 59 Canberra City ACT 2601 Australia
Receive FREE weekly email Web-updates: email and include the words "Subscribe BACK DOOR" in the message header. more info