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Ex-Guerrillas Threaten Political Stability in East Timor

[All links lead to pages in Portuguese except when indicated otherwise.]

Anxiety has plagued East Timor in recent weeks after national police moved in on two groups led by ex-freedom fighters accused of fomenting political instability.

On March 3, 2014, the Timorese parliament unanimously approved a measure [en] that authorized national police to put an end to the activities of the Maubere Revolutionary Council (KRM) and the Popular Democratic Council of the People's Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, commonly known as CPD-RDTL or CPD. 

KRM members had been spotted marching in uniforms with military symbols on a football pitch in Laga in the Baucau District in November 2013, provoking [tet] a wave of unease among Timorese and the political class.

Mauk Moruk e L7 escoltados pela PNTL depois de julgamento em Dília, 14 de Março de 2014. Foto de António Dasiparu partilhada no website sapo.tl com licença de reutilização

Mauk Moruk and L7 escorted by the PNTL after a hearing in Dili, March 14, 2014. Photo by António Dasiparu shared on the site sapo.tl with reuse license

Ex-guerrilla Mauk Moruk (nom de guerre of Paulo Gama), leader of the recently created KRM, had only returned to East Timor a month earlier after living for a long time in Holland. Moruk had fought in the resistance movement against Indonesia's 24-year-long occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999. A referendum in 1999 lead to the country's independence, and the first democratic government was elected in 2002.

But Moruk was expelled from resistance forces in 1984 after a power struggle with current Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. 

In statements to the media upon his return, Moruk said that he wanted to lead a revolution in order to pull the Timorese people out of poverty. He called for the resignation of the government, the dissolution of parliament and the reestablishment of the 1975 constitution (the first unilateral declaration of independence).

Following parliament's approval of action against the KRM and CPD-RDTL, Moruk and fellow KRM leader Labarik Maia, accompanied by L7 (nom de guerre of Cornélio Gama, Moruk's brother), negotiated their surrender to police over the course of several hours in the group's general headquarters in Dili on March 14. At the end of negotiations, L7 declared to the media that the group would cooperate with the government to guarantee the peace and well-being of the people, but warned that if he wished, “All of Dili would burn”.

Moruk and Maia were detained and not released on bail, while L7 was held under house arrest.

Days before, a police operation in Lalulai, a village in Baucau District where KRM members were living, resulted in a shoot-out between police and the revolutionaries. One officer was wounded by a Molotov cocktail. A video circulated by newspaper Tempo Semanal, which appears to show police burning homes as well as shooting into a house where seconds afterward a woman carrying a child is seen leaving, alarmed many Timorese.

CPD-RDTL leader and ex-freedom fighter António Ai-Tahan Matak turned himself in to authorities and is also being held under house arrest.

The CPD-RDTL is an organization founded in 1999 by a dissident faction of opposition party FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor). Over the years, this organization has been accused of using military uniforms and illegally occupying land for communal farming against the will of local populations.

Both organizations are linked to the group Sagrada Familia, a clandestine resistance group created in the 1990s by L7. Cornélio Gama, L7′s real name, is a well-known ex-guerrilla and benefits from a considerable base of popular support, having been elected to parliament for one term by his party UNDERTIM. In spite of his brother Moruk's relative lack of popularity in the country, some analysts [en] see in his kinship with L7 potential for him to drum up a stronger support.

Shortly after his return to the country, Morak had challenged Prime Minister Gusmão to a debate on the history of the armed struggle against the Indonesian occupation. The debate took place on November 11, 2013 at a convention center in the country's capital of Dili, but Moruk didn't show up. Gusmão and other ex-members of the resistance debated [tet] events and divisions among the guerrilla forces in the 1980s, and this was transmitted live on public television.

Historian Matheos Messakh explained the origin of the conflict between Prime Minister Gusmão and Moruk in a post on the blog Satutimor [id]. According to his analysis, KRM's actions are an attempt to capitalize on the growing discontentment with the lack of economic development, especially among young people:

Sangat mungkin strategi Mauk Moruk adalah untuk menargetkan para pemuda yang semakin kehilangan hak-haknya dan gampang dieksploitasi. Moruk mungkin ingin mengisi kekosongan yang diakibatkan oleh larangan terhadap kelompok bela diri dengan warisan klandestin dan keterlibatan dalam kekerasan tahun 2006.

It is likely that Mauk Moruk's strategy is to captivate young people who feel increasingly marginalized and who can be easily taken advantage of. Moruk is trying to fill a void left by the prohibition of martial arts groups that were created during the clandestine resistance and involved in the violence of 2006 [editor's note: a conflict that started between elements of the military and expanded to general gang violence throughout the country, leaving dozens of people dead and thousands displaced. The crisis of 2006 led to the resignation of the then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri (FRETILIN). Read Global Voices post "Riots in East Timor" (April 2006).]

Meanwhile on social media, Timorese have expressed a total lack of sympathy with the illegal character of KRM's and CPD-RDTL's activities and defended democracy and respect for the law.

In spite of this, corruption and growing inequality between elites and the rest of the population are issues dogging the current political establishment. Gani Uruwatu, a member of the Facebook group “Emerging Leadership in Democracy“, wrote on March 19:

Husu Parlamento sira atu bele hasai mos Rezulusaun ba Koruptor sira !!!! ema hatai Farda deit hasai ona Rezulusaun maibe ida nauk osan tokon ba tokon nee nusa laiha rezulusaun ???

Ask parliament to pass another resolution against the corrupt!!! Only those who wear [military-style] uniforms provoke fast resolutions, but those who steal millions and millions get no resolution??

The return of Moruk to the country nearly 30 years after his surrender to the Indonesian military is, according to some, an attempt to gain recognition for his historical role in the Timorese resistance and to win a position of power in the political arena.

Recent events show that actors from the resistance generation still dominate the contemporary political game in East Timor.

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