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The La'o Hamutuk Bulletin
Vol. 4, No. 2: May 2003

English PDF Format  |  Bahasa Indonesia PDF Format

Issue focus: UN Missions and Security

Table of contents:

Part 1

Part 2

UNMISET and Internal Security in East Timor

The first United Nations mission in East Timor (UNAMET) arrived in May 1999. Since then the UN has sent two other missions: UNTAET and currently UNMISET. Each has its own mandate and objectives:

After nearly a year of UNMISET's presence in East Timor, many still do not understand what UNMISET is or what its mandate or responsibilities are. This article will try to clarify some questions about UNMISET, especially in regard to its responsibilities for the internal security of East Timor.

UNMISET's Mandate

UN Security Council Resolution 1410, passed 17 May 2002, authorized the formation of UNMISET for an initial period of one year. UNMISET has three main tasks:

UNMISET has a Mandate Implementation Plan, composed of three programs:

  1. Stability, Democracy and Justice
  2. Public Security and Law Enforcement
  3. External Security and Border Control

The Mission is headed by a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG), Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma, and a Deputy Representative, Sukehiro Hasegawa from Japan, who also heads UNDP in East Timor. UNMISET consists of a civilian component, which includes the office of the SRSG, Civilian Support Group (technical advisors to East Timor's government), Serious Crimes Unit and Human Rights Unit, as well as a civilian police component and a military component (see Table 1).

Table 1:
UNMISET's Authorized Maximum Strength
Civilian Staff455 international staff
977 national staff
241 UN Volunteers
Civilian Police1,250 civilian police
Military5,000 military personnel (including 120 military observers)

According to the December 2002 Report of the Secretary-General on UNMISET's budget for July 2003 to June 2004, UNMISET's two-year budget is approximately U.S.$517 million. About 62% of this goes to personnel, with 22% spent on civilian staff. Although UNMISET has nearly twice as many East Timorese as international staff, only 0.8% of the budget (3% of the civilian personnel money) pays for local staff (see Graph 1).

Public Security and Law Enforcement

This article will focus on UNMISET's Mandate for Internal Security and Law Enforcement, which states that UNMISET is responsible to "provide interim law enforcement and public security and to assist in the development of a new law enforcement agency in East Timor, the East Timor Police Service" and to "contribute to the maintenance of the external and internal security of East Timor." Thus we will look mainly at the mandate and performance of international police, not of the military.

According to the Mandate, this program has two objectives:

  1. to continue providing executive policing;

  2. to support the development of a national police service through training, co-location and timely and coordinated handover of responsibilities.

What does this mean? First, that UNMISET, through its police component UNPOL, will provide police services until the national police is prepared to do so. Second, that it has the responsibility to train and prepare the national police force -- Polisia Nasional de Timor Leste (PNTL) -- as a professional, democratic, efficient, sustainable and community-based police force. UNMISET has overall responsibility for security in East Timor, with the UNPOL Commissioner and the SRSG as ultimate decision makers in regard to security in the country until operational responsibilities are fully handed over to the East Timorese authorities. "Until that time, they [the national police] would remain under the command of the international police commissioner reporting to my Special Representative," according to the Mandate Implementation Plan.

UNPOL Component in East Timor

According to UNMISET's Mandate, "the programme would be implemented by the UNMISET police component, assisted by a small number of civilian experts." When the Mission was established on 20 May 2002, the UNPOL component was 1,250 officers spread among the 13 districts of East Timor. Following the Mandate's orders that "downsizing of UNMISET should proceed as quickly as possible, after careful assessment of the situation in the ground," this number has been gradually reduced according to a plan made at the beginning of the Mission. In March 2003, the UNPOL contingent in East Timor included 662 officers (see Table 2).

Table 2: UNPOL Personnel
Source: UNMISET, March 2003

Training and Development of the National Police

The East Timor national police force, PNTL, was formed on 27 March 2000 with 50 recruits. Police candidates were recruited and selected by UNPOL in Dili and throughout all districts, and the recruiting process was based on international criteria such as height (at least 155 cm for women and 165 cm for men), and the candidates had to pass medical and other tests. There was no consideration of whether the candidate had been pro-autonomy or pro-independence, which generated protests from parts of East Timorese civil society. The East Timor police now number 2,530, and another 253 recruits started the training at the Police Academy on 31 March 2003.

As already mentioned, one of the objectives of UNPOL in East Timor is to train the national police force and prepare them to assume full responsibility for the internal security of the country after UNMISET leaves.

The training for the East Timorese National Police is composed of:

Police Academy

The selected candidates undergo three months of basic training at the Police Academy, where they learn theory and become familiar with police work. The training program was prepared by the UN and covers 54 subjects, with monthly exams. Many national police recruits have only middle school education, so they sometimes have trouble understanding all of the material covered in such a short period.

All officials interviewed by La'o Hamutuk agreed that the basic training given to the PNTL is not enough to prepare a professional police force and that three months is a very tight timeframe. The Joint Assessment Mission on the Timor Leste Police Service, held from 18 to 29 November 2002, recognized in its Aide-Memoire: "All TLPS [now PNTL] recruits receive twelve weeks of basic training in addition to field training. However, it's widely acknowledged that this is insufficient and further training is required to strengthen basic policing skills."

UNPOL says that the time period for the training is limited because it has only two years to prepare 2,830 East Timorese national police officers, and it faces time pressures to reach high targets for the numbers of recruits trained. However, the training of the East Timorese National Police didn't start with UNMISET, but during the UNTAET Mission, in the beginning of year 2000. When UNMISET started in May 2002, the East Timorese police already had about 1,800 officers (see Graph 2). That means that, in the two years of its mandate, UNMISET was required to train around 1,000 officers, not 2,800.

La'o Hamutuk has just received information that a new curriculum for six months basic training has been developed and will be implemented prior to the end of the Mission. With the new curriculum, the timeframe for the training will continue to be one year, six months basic training plus six months field training. But until now, five months after the Joint Mission made its recommendation, PNTL recruits are still receiving the same three months basic training.

Until May 2002, the training at the Police Academy was entirely given by UNPOL officials and international experts. During this period, besides the short timeframe, communication was another problem in the Academy. Most of UNPOL officers giving the training used English, which most East Timorese recruits do not understand. According to a UNPOL technical advisor, as well as PNTL officers interviewed by La'o Hamutuk at the Police Academy, interpretation further reduces the time for training, apart from the fact that in many cases the interpretation is not very accurate.

After independence, PNTL officers began giving the basic training and now command of the Academy has been handed over to PNTL, following the UN plan. UNPOL officers at the Academy are now technical advisors, in an advisory role, monitoring the classes, helping with administration and giving assistance when needed. They also prepare PNTL instructors and, along with international experts, give specialized training on scenarios, human rights, management and other topics. There are currently 44 PNTL instructors and 31 UNPOL technical advisors in the Police Academy.

Table 3:
32 Countries provide
741 Civilian Police
Sri Lanka38
United Kingdom12
United States58
Source: SG Report on UNMISET, 6 November 2002

Field Training and Executive Policing

The first objective of the Internal Security and Law Enforcement programme is "to continue providing executive policing." Since the establishment of the national police force, the executive policing in East Timor has been functioning as a "joint service," provided by UNPOL and PNTL, under the command of the UNPOL Commissioner who reports to the SRSG in East Timor.

The first nine months of "joint service" after graduating from the Police Academy is called "field training" or "on the job training." The recruits return to the towns where they were selected to put into practice what they have learned in the Academy. During this period, a PNTL recruit works side-by-side with a UNPOL counterpart. After finishing the field training, the recruits are tested and evaluated to become professional police officers. But until the district where they work is handed over to the PNTL command, they keep working with their UNPOL counterparts in this joint service.

According to UNPOL Deputy Commissioner Denis McDermott, UNPOL priorities in East Timor change depending on the context and development of the situation. Police service is part of UNPOL's mission, but with the development of the national police, PNTL is usually at the front of daily police operations, while UNPOL now mostly monitors and advises, concentrating its activities on training and investigation.

The "field training" and "joint service" described above have had some problems and difficulties:

  1. Lack of a Common Language: most UNPOL officers working as counterparts of PNTL officers don't speak Tetum or Indonesian, and most PNTL officers don't speak English. This makes communication between East Timorese and UNPOL counterparts difficult, although translators are provided in some cases, especially in the stations. But in daily policing, when PNTL and UNPOL officers are working together in the field, there is usually no one to make the bridge between them. The majority of PNTL officers interviewed by La'o Hamutuk stated that communication is a big problem, especially in the field.

  2. Insufficient Knowledge about Local Culture: some PNTL and UNPOL officers interviewed by La'o Hamutuk stated that UNPOL officers lack knowledge about the local culture, which may be a problem in field policing. This was also acknowledged by the Joint Assessment Mission on the PNTL, which reported that "deficiencies in regard to language and culture by some UNPOL staff have hampered the effectiveness of some technical assistance."

  3. Methods: the first three months of training in the Police Academy, whether given by UNPOL or PNTL officers, follows a curriculum prepared by the UN. But when PNTL officers undergo field training, they work with internationals from all over the world (see Table 3), each with his/her own methods of policing and of applying the theory in practice. This confuses the new East Timorese officers, who see different examples of implementing what they have just learned in the Academy. In fact, these differences raise problems even among UNPOL officers working together.

PKF Back-up Support

The Peace Keeping Force (PKF, the military component of UNMISET) has, as a secondary task, to give back-up support to the police "in the event of serious or large scale internal security incidents exceeding police capabilities." Back-up support normally starts with a request from the District Commander to the UNPOL Commissioner, but the SRSG must make a formal request to the PKF Force Commander.

According to the November 2002 Report of the Secretary-General on UNMISET, UNPOL had, up to that date, required support from PKF to re-establish order on four occasions related to "issue-based security groups" provoking violence. Since this report, the police have requested back-up support from PKF at least three more times: during the civil unrest in Dili on 4 December 2002, and during the two armed incidents in Atsabe and Atabae, in January and February 2003.

The use of military support to deal with internal security affairs is very problematic. Although it may be necessary in cases of extreme threat to security, it should be avoided as much as possible, and its limits and roles have to be very clear. As the name says, it is support given to the police force to re-establish order and provide security, but the responsibility for controlling internal security incidents remains with the police.

Confusion over the roles of police and military are not the only problem with using the military for internal security. The military is not trained to deal with civilians. They are trained to fight wars, to take actions against enemy soldiers, and normally, to kill. To involve the army in civilian disturbances or civil unrest can be very dangerous, and is a bad precedent for a nation building a new democracy. UNPOL requested PKF support seven times in ten months, a very high rate for any country.

There are opinions, even inside PKF, that PKF is doing the police's work in some places, like Dili, because the police cannot do their own job. In many cases, like in the 4 December incident, people expect the PKF to take action, which shows that the role of UNPOL and PKF is not clear to most people, especially in cases of civil disturbances. The fact that the population so often sees PKF in the streets may increase their confusion.

The question is: Why does UNPOL so often need support from the military in East Timor? The police should be well prepared, trained and equipped and have enough personnel to ensure law and order in internal security matters. The cases in which the police need military support should be exceptional.

Handover and Downsizing

Operational responsibility for day-to-day executive policing is transferred to the National Police Command gradually, district by district, according to a plan made before the beginning of the Mandate, with the agreement of the Transitional Government. Under this plan, the national police service will assume full executive responsibility for policing in all 13 districts by January 2004, and UNPOL will take on a technical advisory function. Seven of the 13 districts have been handed over to the PNTL command (see Table 4).

Table 4: UNPOL to PNTL Handover
Already handed over
May 2002Aileu district
May 2002Dili port
May 2002UIR Baucau
June 2002UIR Dili
June 2002Manatuto district
June 2002Dili District Court
Sep 2002Security of the Police Academy
Oct 2002Manufahi district
Nov 2002Ainaro district
Dec 2002Ermera district
Jan 2003Immigration
Jan 2003Maritime unit
Mar 2003Liquisa district
Apr 2003Lautem district
May 2003Viqueque district
Planned for future handover
June 2003Dili airport (Comoro)
June 2003Bobonaro district
June 2003Border patrol
June 2003Covalima district
Aug 2003Oecussi district
Sep 2003Baucau district
Nov 2003Dili district
Jan 2003Headquarters
With the handover, an East Timorese District Commanding Officer, who reports to the PNTL Commissioner, assumes responsibility for command of routine policing, but UNPOL keeps a few personnel as technical advisors. The performance of PNTL officers is still reviewed by Mobile United Nations Police Teams. And until January 2004, when executive responsibility for all the 13 districts, headquarters and specialized units is handed over, PNTL and UNPOL are under the control of the UNPOL Commissioner, even in districts where PNTL has responsibility for daily operations. As described in the agreement between UNMISET and the RDTL Government on the transfer of police responsibilities "the East Timorese Commissioner shall, following District/Unit handover, promptly bring all Operational Command and Control matters to the attention of the UNPOL Commissioner, for his appropriate action."

With the gradual handover of operational responsibilities to PNTL commanders, UNPOL strength has already been gradually downsized. The downsizing plan was drafted according to the handover plan (see Graph 2, below) and when the national police assume total command the UN police will remain in an advisory role, with 100 technical advisors, until June 2004.

The plan for the handover of responsibilities and downsizing has been questioned many times, since the great majority of UNPOL officials we interviewed believe that with the little training received the National Police are, in some cases, still not ready to assume responsibility. In November 2002 the Joint Assessment Mission recommended that "it may be that the timeline for handover merits further consideration taking into account both the current skill levels of the PNTL officers and relevant political factors." When La'o Hamutuk asked the Deputy Commissioner of UNPOL about this recommendation, he said that "the agenda for the handover will continue as planned. We have to leave East Timor in 2004, so we donŐt have time to delay the handover of responsibilities to the PNTL." Even though Denis McDermott agrees with the plan, also said that he is "well aware that a lot more work still needs to be done to leave the PNTL in a position to maintain law and order in the future."

But after the events in Dili, Atsabe and Atabae (see below) UNMISET authorities changed their minds. The Special Report of the SRSG presented to the Security Council on 10 March, recommends several changes in the UNMISET plans in order to address security challenges, including that "... UNMISET would ensure that handover takes place at a pace that does not jeopardize stability...."

The events in Dili, Atsabe and Atabae

Three major events affecting internal security took place in East Timor in the last few months.

On 4 December 2002, a demonstration initiated by students protesting in front of the National Parliament against the attitude of the police during the arrest of one of their classmates the day before was manipulated and directed to attack specific targets symbolic of the Prime Minister or of the unequal wealth of foreigners. During the protest in front of the Parliament three demonstrators were killed, reportedly by PNTL police (see La'o Hamutuk Bulletin Vol.3, No.8).

The ineffective police response to this incident is still unexplained. There are several questions being asked: why did the police shoot into an unarmed crowd? How could the mob have walked around Dili for several hours, and in nearly every incident, the police arrived after the destruction was complete, although they have helicopters, motor vehicles and sophisticated communications equipment? Why did UIR, the unit specially trained to act in civil disturbances, not act to control the protest? Where were the UNPOL counterparts of the PNTL officers who were deployed in front of the Parliament? Why were UNPOL and PNTL officers, plus PKF troops, which gave back-up support to the police in this event, unable to control an unarmed crowd of about 200 people? Why were PKF troops protecting places such as foreign embassies and UN facilities, while nobody, for example, was protecting the Prime Minister's house, which was the last target attacked by the mob?

Answers given to La'o Hamutuk by UNPOL officials are quite vague. First they said that the police weren't able to control the crowd because it split into several groups, heading (on foot) to different targets at the same time. That still doesn't explain why, with all the equipment and personnel that UNMISET has, they weren't able to figure out where the groups were heading and block the roads. It was also said that there weren't enough police personnel to control the crowd of 200 people, even counting PNTL and UNPOL officers posted in Dili, plus the back-up support of the PKF. Regarding the UIR, instead of being deployed to control the crowd, it was deployed to protect the UNPOL Headquarters and the Dili Police Station. A UNPOL official told us unofficially (although his superiors deny this) that, after UIR's intervention in civil disturbances in Baucau some months before, the command decided to "preserve their image," and not send them to the streets. Some UNPOL officials told us that "they weren't prepared" to deal with such an event, even though they are responsible for internal security in East Timor.

Material Resources

When talking about developing East Timorese sustainable institutions, such as the National Police force, we cannot forget that these institutions require well-prepared human resources in addition to adequate material resources. PNTL now depends on UNPOL's material resources like computers, cars, radios and equipment necessary to perform their duties. UNMISET authorities are aware that PNTL will still need these resources after the mission leaves. UNPOL has made several requests to UNMISET to leave the important equipment with PNTL, but it's still not clear if it will happen.

What is clear is that the responsible authorities, UNMISET and UNPOL, didn't take effective action to prevent or control the situation. Why they didn't is not yet clear. It is clear from the UNMISET Mandate that PNTL is under the command of UNPOL. On 13 December, nine days after the event, SRSG Kamalesh Sharma stated that "some discipline problems were evident within the Timor Leste Police Service, and immediate steps have been taken to deal with it." Mr. Sharma never mentioned who was in command of PNTL that day, nor who was responsible for their training. As a high-ranking UNPOL official told us, "if the PNTL committed any mistakes on 4 December, that's many people's fault, and since UNPOL is the one responsible for their training and command, it is the most responsible for the way [PNTL officers] act."

Just after the event, UNPOL opened an investigation into the causes of the disturbance and UNPOL and PNTL performance, as well as the actions taken by PNTL officers involved in the killing of the three demonstrators. In February, the UNPOL Deputy Commissioner told La'o Hamutuk that they were only waiting for the results of ballistic tests to complete the inquiry, and that once completed the outcome will be forwarded to the Prosecutor General. By late May, almost six months after the incident, the results of the investigation have not been released, and nobody has been charged.

According to UNPOL officials, however, some things changed after 4 December: UIR has gone through further training in crowd control skills and appropriate use of force, and new equipment for crowd control was acquired and officers received training on how to use this equipment. If they weren't prepared and well equipped to respond effectively at that time, now they say they are.


The Rapid Intervention Unit or UIR (Unidade Intervensaun Rapida) is a special unit of East Timorese police trained to respond in cases of riot, civil disorder and crowd control. There are two UIR units, one based in Dili, composed of 130 officers, and another in Baucau, with 60 officers. UIR officers were recruited from all police officers, but now it's made only among officers who volunteer to take part in the unit. UIR has already been handed to the PNTL, and the unit receives special training outside the Police Academy. They were first trained by the Portuguese Intervention Corps (CIP), followed by training from Malaysia and Australia. After the 4 December incident, UIR received further training in the use of force and crowd control from Malaysia, a country with a poor record of police respect for human rights.

The other two events involving internal security occurred in January and February, near Atsabe, Ermera district and Atabae, Bobonaro district, both near the Indonesian border. In both cases armed groups attacked the local population, with seven deaths in Atsabe and two in Atabae. The precise motivation for the attacks is still unknown, but, according to the a UNMISET report "there is an increasing amount of credible evidence to suggest that former militias and armed groups may be establishing bases within the country with the objective of undermining stability."

Both in Atsabe and in Atabae, the intervention of the military, PKF and the East Timorese Armed Forces (FDTL), confused who has the responsibility to handle such cases. According to Deputy SRSG Hasegawa, these are internal security matters, and therefore the responsibility of the police. But, once more, the police did very little. In Atsabe, FDTL carried out arrests (most of which were overruled by a judge the next day for being unconstitutional) and remained in the area, along with Portuguese PKF, to guarantee security. In Atabae it was PKF, not police, who searched the area after the attacks and arrested suspects. In both cases, the population asked for the presence of FDTL and PKF, because they lack confidence in the police to guarantee their security.

These three events clearly show the fragility and inefficiency of UNPOL's ability to guarantee internal security in East Timor. In his March 2003 report, the SRSG recommends several changes in UNMISET plans for UNPOL. "The events of recent months suggests that serious deficiencies in Timorese and international capabilities already exists, and can invite further problems," says the report, which calls for freezing the downsizing of UNPOL and PKF until December 2003, and recommends a revised strategy for the military and police forces. These events made the UN authorities in East Timor officially recognize problems previously identified by many others, including the weakness of training and the problems stemming from the rush to hand over districts in order to meet downsizing schedules.

The suggestions made by the SRSG include:

These recommendations were approved by the UN Security Council on 5 May 2003, as part of Resolution 1473.


A stable and secure environment is essential for the development of any nation. And it's clear that in East Timor there are still many problems regarding security. UNMISET, as the institution responsible for maintaining security in East Timor and establishing sustainable Timorese structures for after it leaves, is responsible to solve these problems.

East Timor has many economic, social and historical reasons for its special security problems: Massive unemployment, a lack of education and other public services; limited mutual respect between government and civil society; frustration with the pace of democratic and economic development; widespread post-conflict and post-traumatic stress; lack of confidence in peaceful processes for change. These problems are the legacy of centuries of colonial rule and decades of military occupation. The three-year UNTAET government and the first year of UNMISET made some progress in addressing these problems, but there is far to go and the responsibility of the international community has not ended.

La'o Hamutuk welcomes Security Council Resolution 1473, which makes important recommendations aimed to address security problems. We also hope that these recommendations are implemented, and do not stay only on paper. The Joint Assessment Mission made similar recommendations back in November, but very little has been done to make them happen.

We know that guaranteeing security in East Timor is not an easy task. If UNMISET is to leave a stable East Timor, however, it is not enough to acknowledge the problems in meetings, missions and reports. The Mission has to fully commit itself to face and resolve these problems, and to make serious investment in training and preparing a professional national police force, able to perform its tasks in the best way possible.

Who and What is La'o Hamutuk

La'o Hamutuk staff: Cassia Bechara, Simon Foster, Tomas (Atò) Freitas, Mericio (Akara) Juvinal, Yasinta Lujina, Inês Martins, Adriano do Nascimento, Charles Scheiner, João Sarmento, Jesuina (Delly) Soares Cabral, Andrew de Sousa

Drawings for this Bulletin: Cipriano Daus

Translation for this Bulletin: Douglas Kammen, Johanna Maria, Pamela Sexton, Kylie

Executive board: Sr. Maria Dias, Joseph Nevins, Nuno Rodrigues, Aderito de Jesus Soares

La'o Hamutuk (Walking Together in English) is a joint East Timorese-international organization that monitors, analyzes, and reports on the principal international institutions present in Timor Lorosa'e as they relate to the physical, economic, and social reconstruction and development of the country. La'o Hamutuk believes that the people of East Timor must be the ultimate decision-makers in this process and that this process should be democratic and transparent. La'o Hamutuk is an independent organization and works to facilitate effective East Timorese participation. In addition, La'o Hamutuk works to improve communication between the international community and East Timorese society. La'o Hamutuk's East Timorese and international staff have equal responsibilities, and receive equal pay and benefits. Finally, La'o Hamutuk is a resource center, providing literature on development models, experiences, and practices, as well as facilitating solidarity links between East Timorese groups and groups abroad with the aim of creating alternative development models.

In the spirit of encouraging greater transparency, La'o Hamutuk would like you to contact us if you have documents and/or information that should be brought to the attention of the East Timorese people and the international community.

La'o Hamutuk, The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia)
Mobile: +(670)7234330; Land phone: +670-3325-013
Email: laohamutuk@easttimor.minihub.org; Web: http://www.laohamutuk.org

Part 2