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Timorese government creates military and police force to counter confrontations between rival groups

The Timorese government today created and tasked a joint force of the national armed forces and police to “suppress the criminal situation of individuals leading to social instability” in Dili since last Friday.

“As a result of the serious incidents that have occurred in recent days between individuals integrated into martial arts groups, and in particular the clashes that occurred yesterday, late in the evening of Sept. 5, in the city of Dili, the government has instructed the chiefs of staff of the police and the armed forces to form a joint “task force” to address the problem throughout the national territory,” reads an order published today in the Timorese Official Gazette.

The decree, signed by acting Defense Minister Fidelis Magalhaes and Deputy Interior Minister António Armindo, said the “situation of serious disturbance of public order” did not justify the declaration of a “constitutional state of emergency” but required the government to take “exceptional measures for joint action” by the armed forces and police to “prevent and deter any attempt to commit criminal acts.”

At least four people were injured, including a member of the armed forces, and at least four people were arrested in clashes between rival groups and security forces in Dili, Timorese police said today.

The clashes, involving members of at least two rival martial arts groups, PSHT and 77, marked tensions in the Timorese capital since the death on Friday of a young man of 21 who was being held in a Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) cell in Dili.

This young man from the PSHT group was arrested on Thursday morning after violently attacking another young man from Group 77, who did not resist the injuries and died on Monday evening at the Guido Valadares National Hospital.

Although the initial investigation pointed to suicide as the cause of the young man’s death in jail, families and sections of the PSHT expressed suspicion that police officers might have been involved in the death and spread rumors on social networks.

Although investigations by the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) and the Scientific Criminal Investigation Department (PCIC) are ongoing, the Timorese Police General Command has suspended the eight officers on patrol the day of the death last Friday as a precaution.

Dilli, capital of East Timor. (Photo internet reproduction)
Dilli, capital of East Timor. (Photo internet reproduction)

Nevertheless, investigative sources told Lusa that preliminary data, including the autopsy of the 21-year-old, indicate no aggression and confirm death by “mechanical asphyxia by hanging.”

Forensics and further investigation are still being conducted to determine the exact circumstances of the death, police sources confirmed.

On Friday, the young man’s wake saw clashes in central Dili, forcing police to use tear gas to disperse a crowd.

Tensions continued over the weekend, and on Monday, after the funeral, clashes broke out again between supporters of the two rival groups.

Amateur videos show them punching, kicking, and throwing stones at a member of the Defense Forces (F-FDTL) who was trying to calm the situation.

The task force established today is mandated to “conduct patrols throughout the national territory” and “exercise special surveillance and control of all places considered sensitive in the city of Dili to prevent and suppress the criminal situation of people who cause social instability,” according to the text published today in the Official Gazette.

The order took effect today and will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2022, “and may be extended if the deviant behavior in this matter continues,” it said.

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