FRENTE REVOLUCIONÁRIA DO TIMOR-LESTE INDEPENDENTE
Dili: Friday, January 9, 2009
Silencers for police guns – another step towards a secret police state
A move to equip Timor-Leste police with firearms silencers is more evidence of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão’s intention to establish a police capability to undertake secret operations, FRETILIN warned today.
FRETILIN Vice President and MP, Arsenio Paixao Bano, said the party would oppose a government proposal to buy silencers for the police “Rapid Intervention Unit”.
“As Minister for Defence and Security Gusmao is in command of and directly responsible for the police.
“He apparently intends to give his police force the capability to undertake clandestine ‘hit’ or ‘dark’ operations. Why would you seek to acquire the capability to shoot people quietly, unless you did not want the shooters identified?” asked Bano.
Bano said the proposed budget for 2009, approved by Gusmão’s Council of Ministers, contains a request for USD $421,000 for the purchase of “equipment to maintain public order” described as “special operations equipment” such as “laser illuminator”, “night vision optical” and “silencers” noting this “equipment to be used by the Rapid Intervention Unit” (see Item 830 Security Equipment, in the Minor Capital section of the 2009 Budget Proposal for the Ministry of Defence and Security).
Bano, a leader of Timor-Leste’s youth resistance during the Indonesian occupation said PM Gusmão seemed intent on creating a “secret police state” as the main law and order authority, by-passing the rule of law and human rights.
“In January last year Gusmao threatened to arrest journalists for writing against him and his government (see ‘Gusmao threat to arrest E Timor media’, The Australian, January 18 2008). The following month the police, under Gusmao’s ministerial responsibility and command arrested a senior FRETILIN MP without cause, illegally and in breach of an MP’s parliamentary immunity.
“Police use of excessive force against peaceful student demonstrators drew a protest from Amnesty International on July 7 last year. Then on September 28 Gusmao threatened on television to arrest any person participating in FRETILIN’s planned lawful Peace March.
“Gusmao’s proposed gun law would give the police commander the discretion to authorise civilians to obtain and carry weapons, including automatic weapons. That legislation was twice defeated in parliament last year, but is still on the table. Now we find a budget proposal to buy silencers for police weapons,” Bano said.
“The PM has shown himself ready to use the police against anyone who lawfully dissents against his regime. We know that networks of ‘special agents’ or ‘spies’ have been planted around the country to collect ‘intelligence’ for the Gusmão administration and that many of these persons are armed.”
Bano said the proposed purchase of silencers for police weapons should be seen in the context of a leaked United Nations report describing the Timor Leste police force (PNTL) as “dysfunctional”.
The report by UN Assistant Secretary General, Dimitry Titov was revealed by The Australian newspaper on 23 December 2008: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24835967-31477,00.html
The UN report said attempts to create a credible and unified national police force following the breakdown of the police force and law and order in May 2006 had failed. “Tremendous institutional gaps persist, including weak management and command and control, lack of core capacities (e.g. investigations) and an almost total absence of logistics and systems maintenance capacity,” it said.
Bano said: “There is a lot of frustration within the police force with the way the government is mishandling and strongly politicising the role of the police. There are many good and dedicated police officers who just want to do their job and they complain to us almost daily that they have all sorts of political barriers placed in their way in their attempt to do their job independently and professionally.”
He said the Gusmao government was pressuring the UN to hand over full police powers when the UN mandate expires in March this year.
“But the PNTL is not institutionally ready to take full responsibility for policing. It is highly politicised and the government has failed to address critical institutional problems such as putting in place a strong and professional command untainted by allegations from the 2006 crisis,” Bano said.
“Right now only the Timor Leste army (F-FDTL) and the UN Police are providing a positive influence for the maintenance of law and order. We certainly need a UN police presence for another year or two.”
Bano said FRETILIN was particularly concerned that local authority elections due to be held in September this year would not be free and fair because the PNTL under Gusmão’s complete control would engage in and permit intimidation and harassment of opposition parties and their supporters.
“There can be no free and fair elections with the PNTL under Gusmao’s total and sole, armed with automatic weapons and silencers. People are already talking about the fear and intimidation that would mar the elections. I and many of my colleagues lived under an authoritarian police state during the Suharto years and I fear we will be living under a similar state soon unless there is some progress towards reforming the police.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT ARSENIO BANO M.P. ON +670 741 9505 or firstname.lastname@example.org