Cablegate: Security Missteps Damage Dili' S Recent Performance

O R 280952Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A




1. (SBU) Serious missteps by the Timorese security forces,
both the national police and the military, have dented the
government's performance in recent days. UNMIT has reported
several credible reports of human rights violations of varying
severity by the police since February 11, including the
unprovoked beating of a journalist. The surrenders of two
alleged participants in the February 11 attacks on the President
and Prime Minister have been handled very badly, including in
one case the drawing of weapons by the Timorese military on
UNPOL personnel. Three other alleged perpetrators have been
among more than 400 "petitioners" that have gathered in Dili;
only late on February 28 were the five presented to a court.
More than twenty other attackers remain at large, although
reports suggest they are increasing desperate and preparing for
surrender. Six did so today. Dili and the rest of Timor-Leste
remain calm. The ever-growing crowd of petitioners in Dili
gives the government a big opportunity to resolve one of the
nation's priorities. End summary.

2. (SBU) In reftel, we had a relatively positive assessment of
the government of Timor-Leste's (GOTL) performance since the
attacks on the president and prime minister on February 11,
2008. While we saw several potential vulnerabilities and the
possibility of renewed instability due to government inaction or
maladministration, we judged performance overall as reassuringly
good. In brief, the GOTL since 2/11 implemented emergency and
other measures in accordance with the constitution and law,
institutions continued to function, Timorese security agencies
cooperated to maintain stability and capture the 2/11
perpetrators, and the country's leadership focused on resolving
the military petitioner and IDP priorities. Regrettably, some
of the GOTL's recent actions seriously undermined our
confidence. Highlights follow.

Human rights abuses


3. (SBU) UNMIT human rights officials state there have been
between ten and fifteen reports of credible violations of human
rights by the Timorese national police (PNTL) since February 11,
including physical abuse. Full investigations by UNMIT are
pending. Prominent among the allegations are the arrest and
beating of a journalist apprehended on February 24 during curfew
hours and, though not widely reported, the nighttime and
uninvited entry into a house used as a residence by UNPOL
officers and the beating of a Thai UNPOL member. The Secretary
of State for Security promptly issued a public apology regarding
the PNTL's ill-treatment of the journalist.

4. (SBU) On February 25, UNPOL took into custody a suspect for
whom an arrest warrant had been issued due to his involvement in
crimes committed by Alfredo Reinado's group in 2006. The
suspect surrendered to UNPOL voluntarily, was brought by UNPOL
to the Dili detention center where he stayed overnight and, on
February 26, was handed over to the prosecutor general for
judicial processing. Later that day, the prosecutor general
released the suspect prior to his appearance before a court into
the personal "custody" of one of the petitioners now in an
encampment in Dili.

5. (SBU) On February 27, another 2/11 suspect voluntarily
surrendered himself to the police in Oecussi, the Timor-Leste
enclave in Indonesia. UNPOL provided helicopter transportation
back to Dili and UNPOL police accompanied. Upon arrival at the
Dili airport, the suspect was placed in an UNPOL vehicle and the
party proceeded towards the airport exit. A Timorese military
(F-FDTL) truck blocked their departure, however, and fourteen
troops with weapons drawn surrounded the UNPOL car and seized
the suspect. He, too, was dropped at the petitioners'
encampment without having first been delivered to the judicial
authorities. Beyond the outrageous and wholly improper threat
against UN personnel, and the arguable commission of an act of
armed kidnapping, the F-FDTL troops violated Timor law as they
do not have police powers of arrest. (Note: this incident has
not yet made it into the local press.)

6. (SBU) There also have been a number of worrisome actions by
F-FDTL personnel on February 11 and thereafter, as well as
apparent GOTL forbearance of impunity by soldiers and others.
Questions surrounding the actions of the president's F-FDTL
close protection unit on February 11 are legion. As of February
27, F-FDTL commanders had denied permission to F-FDTL troops
present at the president's residence and eyewitness to the
events on February 11 to undergo interviews with police
investigators and provide evidence. (Note: the prosecutor
general told us yesterday that permission finally had been
granted and the F-FDTL soldiers would soon present their
accounts, but we have not been able to confirm that they have
done so.) In November 2007, four F-FDTL soldiers were sentenced
to 12 years in prison for committing murder during the 2006
crisis. Although all of their appeals have been heard and
denied, none have been turned over to prison authorities, and
one has been seen manning the security detail at President
Horta's residence(!). In addition to the two suspects mentioned
above, UNMIT confirms that three others with outstanding
warrants for either the 2/11 events or Reinado-related 2006
activities were among the petitioners now assembled in Dili.

Still moving forward


7. (SBU) Despite the serious bruises that the rule of law and
respect for human rights in Timor-Leste suffered over the past
few days, overall the situation remains positive. Dili and the
remainder of the country are calm, stores are open, and markets
are bustling as normal. All members of the U.S. embassy family
are safe as are members of the American community. Surprisingly
large numbers of petitioners have assembled in Dili, a startling
development (and opportunity) not predicted even a week ago.
Numerous reports have Salsinha, the leader of the remaining 2/11
attackers, feeling increasingly isolated, fearful of capture and
preparing himself for surrender. Six of his band surrendered to
police in a district outside of Dili today. Senior UNMIT
representatives told us that the PM responded to the February 27
incident (para 5 above) with a letter to the SRSG promising to
investigate fully, the President twice has formally apologized,
and the PM and SRSG will meet the evening of February 28 to
discuss. The five suspects in Dili finally were turned over to
UNPOL late on February 28 and presented before a court. Other
functions of government roll on, albeit at the low levels to
which we are accustomed. Ministers in charge of economic/social
development have been pushing us hard to advance assistance in
areas from roads to IDP housing.

8. (SBU) As always in this volatile country, we face a great
deal of unpredictability going forward. The capture/surrender
of the remainder of the 2/11 attackers could be prolonged or go
badly. Coordination among the four security agencies (F-FDTL,
PNTL, UNPOL and the Australian-led International Stabilization
Force) has been strained, sometimes sharply so, and could yield
an unhappy or tragic outcome. There is great public uncertainty
regarding the events of 2/11, the motivations of the attackers
and the extent and prominence of their supporters. Once the
truth is revealed, the political consequences could be
significant and destabilizing. There are also dangers of an
official cover-up, failure to fully pursue the truth, or
enjoyment by the perpetrators or their supporters of impunity.
The petitioners that have presented themselves in Dili give the
GOTL an enormous opportunity to resolve a set of grievances that
have tragically undermined the nation's stability for more than
two years. But will the government be able to effectively mount
a decisive response? We remain alert both to the dangers
present in Timor's forlorn political landscape, and eager to
assist those leaders committed to the strengthening and
development of Timor's democratic institutions and rule of law.

© Scoop Media

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