Cablegate: Political Future for Top Timorese General?

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1. SUMMARY: Major General Taur Matan Ruak, the current commander
of the Timorese armed forces (F-FDTL), could stand as a
candidate in the presidential elections in 2012. While TMR is a
member of the independence generation that has dominated
Timorese politics since the country's formal independence in
2002, he would be a "new" figure in the sense that he is not one
of the three men - Xanana Gusmao, Jose Ramos-Horta, and Mari
Alkitiri - that to date have monopolized the presidency and
prime minister's office and are identified as part of the "1975
generation" of political leaders. TMR is most closely
associated with Gusmao, his guerrilla army colleague during the
Indonesian occupation, and if Gusmao decides to back him TMR
would likely stand as the presidential candidate for Gusmao's

Early Life: Labor Organizer

2. Taur Matan Ruak (TMR) was born in the town of Baguia,
District of Baucau, on October 10, 1956. He was the eldest son
of eight children (five girls and three boys). In 1960 TMR
moved to Dili to live with an uncle and in 1963 he started his
primary studies, finishing in five years later in 1968.

3. In 1971 TMR obtained employment at a pousada or hotel in
Baucau. Despite his tender age he organized an employee strike,
demanding increased salaries, better food and conditions, and
greater respect for employee dignity. The Dili Court ruled
against the striking employees, undermining TMR's confidence in
the judicial institutions of the Portuguese administration. In
1973 TMR got another hotel job, this time at the Hotel Resende
in Dili, and a year later organized another strike against
unfair conditions. The case was again submitted to the Dili
Court but it ended once again without a satisfactory resolution.
TMR's activism was part of a broader movement for labor rights
in Timor-Leste; Ramos-Horta and Gusmao were also organizing
strikes around this time.

4. The Portuguese colonial administration began a process of
decolonization in May 1974 and Timorese political parties were
encouraged to register. After a brief civil war in August 1975,
the left-wing political organization FRETILIN (Revolutionary
Front for an Independent East Timor) emerged as the interim
administration of the fledging nation. TMR, still not yet 20
years old, supported the new administration.

Rise to FALINTIL Commander

5. When Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste in December 1975, TMR,
who was still in Dili, took to the hills with FRETILIN's
military wing, FALINTIL (Armed Forces for the National
Liberation of East Timor), and its first commander, Nicolau
Lobato. During the first three years of the war, during which
time an estimated 100,000 Timorese were killed, TMR participated
in battles against the Indonesian military in Dili, Aileu,
Maubisse, Ossu, Venilale, Uatulari and finally Laga, on the
north-eastern coast. He steadily rose through the FALINTIL
ranks in a series of command positions centered on FALINTIL's
strongholds in the East. Lobato was killed in 1978, however,
and by the end of that year FALINTIL's ability to mount
sustained operations in direct confrontation to the Indonesians
was greatly diminished. FALINTIL increasingly turned to
guerilla tactics, and TMR organized many of those efforts in the
East. He was briefly captured in March 1979 in Viqueue but
escaped after 23 days.

6. TMR remained at large throughout the 1980's, coordinating
guerilla commando actions across the country. He became
FALINTIL Chief of Staff in November 1992 after the capture of

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Xanana Gusmao and rose to the position of Operational Commander
in March 1998.

Popular Consultation and Transition to F-FDTL

7. On August 30, 1999, the Timorese people voted overwhelmingly
for their independence from Indonesia in a UN-supervised
referendum. From his jail cell in Jakarta FALINTIL
Commander-in-Chief Gusmao ordered all FALINTIL personnel
confined to cantonments, for fear that any armed engagement
with the Indonesians would jeopardize the holding of the ballot.
Despite the intense violence and destruction that both preceded
and followed the referendum, TMR successfully carried out
Gusmao's difficult order and prevented FALINTIL guerillas from
taking action even though the Timorese population begged for
protection against rampaging pro-Indonesia forces.

8. On August 20, 2000, on the 25th anniversary of FALINTIL's
founding, Xanana Gusmao resigned from FALINTIL and TMR was
appointed the Commander-in-Chief, the last individual to hold
that position. FALINTIL subsequently became the official armed
forces of East Timor on February 1, 2001. The new force honored
its historical roots by taking the name FALINTIL-Defense Force
of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL). TMR became F-FDTL's first and thus far
only commander, with the rank of Brigadier General.

Role in the 2006 Crisis

9. TMR was a central figure in the April-May 2006 crisis which
erupted around the dismissal from the F-FDTL of nearly 600
"petitioners," soldiers drawn mainly from the western part of
the country that alleged discrimination in favor of soldiers
from the East. TMR was accused by some of not paying sufficient
attention to his soldiers' concerns and allowing the situation
to escalate as far as it did. TMR's house was attacked at the
end of May 2006, necessitating a negotiated rescue of his
children trapped inside.

10. The UN Special Commission of Inquiry (COI) that
investigated the 2006 crisis concluded that TMR ordered the
F-FDTL to arm two hundred civilians shortly after his house was
attacked. TMR claimed the additional personnel were needed as
"reservists" to bolster the F-FDTL's troop levels, which had
been depleted during the crisis. The COI found no basis in
Timorese law for arming reservists in this way and recommend
that TMR and others be prosecuted in Timorese courts for illegal
weapons transfer. Timor-Leste's Prosecutor General announced in
December 2009 that she was dropping the weapons investigation
and would not bring charges against TMR since there was no
evidence of unlawfulness or culpability.

Political Prospects

11. TMR in recent months has made public statements mentioning
the need for the old generation at F-FDTL to retire, including
him. He was promoted to Major General in November 2009 as his
second-in-command rose to Brigadier General, but PM Gusmao
denied that the moves were a sign that a change in command was
imminent. Nevertheless, TMR is mentioned as a possible
presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for mid-2012,
particularly if the independent incumbent Jose Ramos-Horta
decides not to run again.

12. The most likely fit for TMR is the National Congress for

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Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party led by PM Gusmao, either as
its candidate or with its tacit backing as an independent as
Ramos-Horta did in 2007. CNRT Secretary-General Dionisio Babo
stressed that CNRT is a party that values Timor-Leste's history,
its resistance and its veterans and former combatants. He
acknowledged that recent party meetings have discussed the
possibility of CNRT supporting TMR to run for President. Babo
believed the majority of the party is in favor of this option,
but underscored that Gusmao has not revealed his preferences yet.


13. The 2012 election cycle will likely contain both
presidential and national parliamentary elections. The big
three political figures - Gusmao, Ramos-Horta and Alkatiri -
will be 65, 62 and 62 years old, respectively, in 2012.
Alkatiri is anxious to lead Fretilin into the elections to
regain the prime ministership he lost in 2007, but the futures
of Gusmao and Ramos-Horta are less clear. Should one or both of
them step aside, TMR would be among a small group of candidates
to replace them.

14. TMR's command of the F-FDTL and his guerilla history give
him a national profile that few of his potential rivals would be
able to match. He is a charismatic leader known throughout the
country; his visits even to the remotest areas bring out crowds
of villagers shouting out his name. TMR's high profile is
colored, however, by his role in the still divisive experience
of 2006, when regional, institutional and generational rivalries
combined to produce the worst political violence in
Timor-Leste's history as an independent country. He has never
held political office and is thus viewed by many as better
suited to the more ceremonial role of the presidency than the
leadership of a political party.

15. TMR is favorably disposed toward the U.S. and has welcomed
increased military to military bilateral engagement as a
valuable way to professionalize the F-FDTL. He is leading an
overhaul of the F-FDTL as an institution and hopes to
dramatically change the force in the next 5-10 years. He is a
thoughtful interlocutor even though his formal education ended
when he was 12 years old. Although he prefers the use of a
translator TMR is a strong English speaker with the ability to
discuss complex issues ranging from long-term strategy to
tactical guerilla warfare. He comfortably holds his own with
colleagues from other nations, and has extensive experience
dealing with the senior military leaders of the Australian, New
Zealand and United Nations contingents present in Timor-Leste
since its birth as a country ten years ago.

© Scoop Media

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