Cablegate: Let's Lift the Travel Warning for Timor-Leste

DE RUEHDT #0229/01 2541007
O 101007Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. Embassy Dili believes that conditions in
Timor-Leste now warrant revocation of the Department's Travel
Warning, last revised in July. Over the course of 2008,
immediate threats to political and social stability have been
eliminated or reduced. There have been no major instances of
communitarian violence in 2008, there is no known terrorist
threat, and Timor-Leste's external relations with Indonesia and
its other neighbors are good. The few large demonstrations held
in 2008 did not get out of control or endanger bystanders.
Foreigners are very seldom victims of violent crime.
Appropriate advice concerning Dili's petty street crime can be
included in the "Safety and Security" chapter of "Country
Specific Information" for Timor-Leste at the
website. End summary.

2. (U) Embassy Dili recommends that the Department lift its July
21, 2008 Travel Warning for Timor-Leste. Although street crime
is an issue, and there remains a potential for political
instability and communitarian conflict, post regards Timor-Leste
as generally safe for Amcit travelers. In lieu of a Travel
Warning, necessary safety and security information can be
provided on the website. The following factors
have influenced post's conclusions:

Immediate Sources of Political Tension Reduced Or Removed
--------------------------------------------- --------------

3. (U) A band of fewer than 20 military dissidents, at large
since the 2006 political crisis, carried out an unsuccessful
assassination attempt against President Jose Ramos-Horta and
Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao on February 11, 2008. The
rebels' leader, Major Alfredo Alves Reinado, was killed in the
attack. While alive, Reinado provided a rallying point for some
disaffected political elements, youth, and a group of
disgruntled ex-military and veterans of the resistance struggle
known as "the petitioners." However, his violent and unforeseen
acts against the country's leaders shocked and alienated these
erstwhile admirers, and his death eliminated him as a source of
further destabilization. The remnants of his band surrendered
peacefully to the authorities and have been in custody since May.

4. (U) Reinado's death and the arrest of his followers led to
the resolution of the Government of Timor-Leste's (GOTL)
conflict with the petitioners, thereby removing another
immediate source of instability. While they were at large or
camped at the Aitarak Laran site in Dili, this group of about
600 men and their families presented a potential threat to
security. Following the surrender of Reinado's followers, the
petitioners became amenable to a settlement. Over the past
several months, virtually all the petitioners have accepted GOTL
payouts, have disbanded their encampment in Dili, and no longer
pose a security threat.

5. (U) The GOTL has also recently made significant progress in
resettling nearly half of the 100,000 internally displaced
persons (IDPs) who were driven from their homes during the 2006
political crisis. According to the Ministry of Social
Solidarity, a total of 23 camps have been closed and more than
6500 IDP families have received a recovery or a reintegration
package under the GOTL's resettlement strategy. IDP camps in
Dili were sources of low-level criminal activity, sites of
political agitation, and a public health menace. Over the last
few months, the compensation packages, in combination with the
return of relative political stability and reconciliation
efforts in the IDPs' hometowns, have led to the evacuation of
Dili's largest and most volatile camps, including those located
at Nicolau Lobato Airport, Jardim (Dili Port), National
Hospital, and Sional (World Bank). Evacuation of the Dom Bosco
camp is underway; when this is completed, 24 of the country's 51
camps will be closed, reducing a major potential source of
social and political instability.

6. (SBU) The level of partisan political confrontation has also
subsided. The August 2007 political violence was in fueled in
part by hard-line supporters of the opposition FRETILIN party,
who rejected the new government formed after elections in late
June. Since then, FRETILIN has ceased agitating for the
government's ouster, refrained from incendiary rhetoric, and for
the time being has settled into the role of Parliamentary

Dili Is Less Volatile
7. (U) Although the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL)
remains a weak and undisciplined force, security in Dili has
improved in some important regards. During political violence
in the 2006 crisis and in August 2007, youth gangs took

DILI 00000229 002 OF 002

advantage of the disorder to engage in rock fights and shoot
metal darts, endangering motorists and passers-by. However,
following the February 11 assassination attempts, imposition of
a strict curfew and creation of an effective joint command
between the PNTL and Defense Forces of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL)
prevented a recurrence of these episodes. In fact, street crime
in all forms dropped off radically during the State of Siege and
subsequent State of Emergency in the weeks following February 11.

8. (U) The effectiveness of the emergency measures seems to have
influenced conditions subsequent to the lifting of the State of
Emergency on May 8. Statistical tracking of criminal activity
conducted by the UN Police Mission in Timor-Leste indicates a
reduction in several categories compared with the same period in
2007. These figures show a decline in the incidence of
disorderly behavior, arson, group fighting, and homicide. The
number of assaults remained constant, as did the number of
overall arrests.

9. (U) Another factor influencing the security climate in Dili
was the December 2007 creation of the PNTL's Dili Task Force, a
rapid reaction unit formed in response to an upsurge in crime in
Dili last year. Although the Task Force has earned a reputation
for brutality, its actions have met with the approval of many
Dili residents for ruthlessly clamping down on gang and thug
activity. Gang activity may also be curtailed by a truce signed
on August 28 between PSHT and 77, Dili's largest martial arts

Australian, Portuguese Assessments
10. (SBU) As a basis for comparison, it is relevant to consider
travel advisories prepared by the Governments of Australia and
Portugal, each of which is responsible for sizeable expat
communities in Timor-Leste. Australia's assessment of the
security environment is very similar to the Department's July 21
travel advisory, and recommends that Australians "reconsider"
the need to travel to Timor-Leste. However, its equities in
Timor-Leste are different from ours, and the GOA will probably
not relax its advisory for two reasons. First, because of the
size of the Australian community (about 1,500, not including 750
military personnel) any sudden deterioration of conditions would
create greater demands on the GOA than those that the USG would
face. Secondly, the GOA recalls 2006-7 incidents between
Timorese and the predominantly Australian International
Stabilization Force (ISF). Although the ISF is a highly
disciplined force and there have been no tensions in recent
months, the GOA is likely concerned by a scenario in which an
incident between the ISF and Timorese sparks more widespread
anti-Australian sentiments or actions. Post believes these
considerations are of limited applicability to USG

11. (U) The Government of Portugal, by contrast, assesses the
political situation as "calm" and "stable." The GOP merely
provides its approximately 1,500 nationals with advice against
becoming victims of crime, and urges them to abstain from
activities of a political nature.

12. (U) In short, Timor-Leste still has latent political and
social conflicts similar to those in many other developing
countries; these could again escalate into civil disorder if
triggered by unforeseeable events. However, post believes that
major factors contributing to the violence of 2006-7 have
diminished to the extent that a special travel warning is no
longer needed. We do not downplay the importance of sound
advice to U.S. travelers to Timor-Leste. While petty crime
(particularly purse snatchings, burglaries, and vehicle
break-ins) remains a low-level but persistent problem,
foreigners are rarely victims of violent crime. Gun violence is
practically unheard of. By any objective measure, AmCits are
safer in Dili than in Washington, D.C. Relevant safety and
security information for travelers should be included in the
"Safety and Security" chapter of "Country Specific Information"
for Timor-Leste at the website.

© Scoop Media

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