One of the most common stratagems for bringing armed groups under control, whether to end an insurgency or in the aftermath of war, is to offer them positions in the regular armed forces of the new state. When people complain that America "should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army after the fall of Saddam" that is exactly the alternative they are advocating. This eases the transition in the short run but only at the cost of kicking the can down the road, as East Timor has recently discovered. After it regained it's independence from Indonesia, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao decided he would offer his former enemies positions in the police force.
President Xanana’s strategy of promoting national reconciliation allowed for the integration of many former Indonesian functionaries and pro-autonomy elements into the security forces, especially the police force. PNTL’S current commander Commissioner Paulo Martins was a former Colonel in the Indonesian Police.
Eastern Timorese ("easterners") and Gusmao's men were given a separate track into the Army -- Timorese Defense Forces (FDTL).
This situation has led many to accuse the FDTL of being a "Firaku" or eastern-dominated force. Soldiers originating from the western part of the island accuse eastern officers of favoritism in promotion and double standards when it comes to discipline. To complicate matters further, Timor’s National Police Force (PNTL) has a high number of western personnel particularly among its senior officers. Once again the demands of the war of national liberation created this situation. The more educated and urbanized people, suited for police work, came from the western side of the island and many served previously in the Indonesian bureaucracy, giving them the advantage of experience.
This established a Timorese Army of ex-guerillas coexisting with a police force drawn largely from the security personnel of the ancien regime. Furthermore, the police were provided with technical training and support from the United Nations.
Establishing a new police force for East Timor was one of the priorities for the United Nations before sovereignty was passed to the new state in May 2002. ... U.N. Civilian Police (CivPol) began recruitment drives for the new East Timorese police service in early 2000 and basic training commenced on March 27, 2000, under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The initial graduating class of the newly inaugurated Police College numbered 1,700, the first fifty of whom took up their functions as police officers on July 12, 2000. Just over a year later, on August 10, 2001, the East Timor Police Service was officially established, working alongside CivPol. It later changed its name to the Timor-Leste Police Service, before finally adopting its current title of the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL).
The result, according to ISN, were two rival yet unequal security forces. The police, staffed with men of greater experience and social standing soon began to overshadow the army of ex-guerillas.
As a result, the PNTL is a far larger and better equipped force, perceived to enjoy a higher standing within Timorese society, while the military, who claims - and rightly so - to have made the most sacrifices in the struggle for national liberation, is being marginalized. The rivalry between the military and the police is clearly demonstrated by the type of disciplinary cases reported in the FDTL. Nearly 70 per cent of the cases involved confrontations of one type or another, between police officers and military personnel and invariably, the regionalism element was always a contributing factor.
The resentments eventually broke out into the open in February, 2006. According to the Australian:
More than 400 mutinous East Timorese soldiers -- a quarter of the country's army -- will be dismissed for deserting after protesting over poor conditions and selective promotions. ... At large is a volatile, undisciplined group with military training who were previously seasoned guerilla fighters against the Indonesian occupiers. Their dismissal is also an embarrassment for Canberra because most of the rebel troops received training from the Australian Defence Force as part of the Howard Government's $26 million defence co-operation program with East Timor.
Complicating the situation was a split within a split. The FDTL or Army was itself divided between eastern and western Timor lines.
The majority are the 591 western-provinces born soldiers who left barracks in March complaining that soldiers from the east of the country have preferred for promotions over them. They call themselves the “petitioners” and say eastern-born soldiers have wrongly claimed credit for staging the 24-year insurgency against Indonesia and been rewarded with the best military jobs. The petitioning soldiers had staged a peaceful protest in which got out of control on April 28. In the days that followed, thousands of Dili residents fled to the hills – along with 80-plus western-born police who abandoned their posts.
One Australian policy wonk interviewed on the radio described the situation in this way (remember that in Australia the "Liberal" party is the conservative party):
RUSSEL TROOD: The real problem goes back to the time when the armed forces themselves where established in 1999. Originally, Foreign Minister Horta said that there probably wouldn't need to be armed forces, but they subsequently decided, late '99 that there would some armed forces created. And it was never quite clear what the role of those armed forces would be, or how they would be paid, how they would relate to the, the role of the police force in the country, things of that kind, which reflects some structural difficulties in the ways in which the armed forces contribute to law and order in the society.
LOUISE YAXLEY: So an armed force was being created without its role being clear?
RUSSEL TROOD: Well, an attempt was made to define the role, but a relatively small force, it was going to be about 1,500, which was clearly not going to be large enough to defend the country form outside threat, for example. And the model was there within the context of Indonesia, where of course the armed forces played both a defence role in relation to outside threats, but also an internal security role.
Now Australia has deployed a large part of its infantry and naval strength to Timor in an effort to stop the fighting between factions in the police and the army. The New York Times reports:
Several hundred Australian commandos landed in the tiny Pacific Ocean nation of East Timor today in an initial effort to quell escalating fighting between the military and dissident armed forces. ... An additional 1,300 Australian soldiers, as well as forces from Malaysia and Portugal, the former colonial power, were expected in the next several days after East Timor's foreign minister, José Ramos-Horta, appealed for outside help to disarm "renegade troops and police rebelling against the state."
Since Australia's population is approximately 15 times smaller than that of the US this amounts to a major deployment. The Australian says there are no more shortcuts: Rebuild fledgling state or face 'war forever'
Major Alfredo Reinado, the commander of the rebel forces that generated the latest crisis, declared that only the presence of foreign troops could prevent a civil war. "There is no other way, or it will be war forever," he told the BBC. "The Government has taken too long. It is not capable of resolving this." Reinado has close links with Australia. He lived in Western Australia for nine years before returning to East Timor after the 1999 referendum. He has spent time at the Australian Defence College in Canberra and is well known to several Australian army officers. The Australians' ability to deal with Reinado could prove the key to ending the bitter conflict that now threatens Mari Alkatiri's Government.
Paul Bremer's decision to de-Baathize Iraq has been criticized as a key mistake. And it may have been. But the problem of dealing with loose groups of poorly educated men who have known nothing but the profession of arms is a chronic problem the world over. From Somalia to Palestine; from Mindanao to Timor -- integration into the police or armed forces is often offered to "fighters" as an alternative to open hostility. But it's not a perfect solution, as illustrated in Gaza:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to hold a referendum which could lead to a negotiated settlement with Israel if Fatah and Hamas cannot resolve their differences. He gave the rival factions 10 days to agree on a common platform or he would submit a proposal from jailed leaders on how to end the Palestinian crisis to a referendum.
Translation. Stop fighting or I'll make a deal with the Jews. What's Waltzing Matilda in Hebrew? It may sound familiar.