tagged w/ timor
For most, the presence of an outfit of ninjas conjures scenes of Japanese comic book assassins or, perhaps, of mutant turtles dwelling in a sewer. But in East Timor, ninjas have become a national security threat. The impoverished country, perched on the fringes of the Indonesian archipelago, is in the grips of a six-month campaign aimed at curbing "ninja" activities — a euphemism, ostensibly, for clandestine, anti-government militancy. Earlier this year, Longuinhos Monteiro, East Timor's police chief, donned commando fatigues and personally led an operation into the country's western marches. He sent out a warning via the press: "Any ninjas who want to take us on, your final stop will be Santa Cruz cemetery [in the capital, Dili]."
To understand the way of the East Timor ninja, one has to look at the nation itself. After becoming formally independent in 2002, East Timor remains very much a fledgling — even experimental — state with a pack of international institutions and NGOs propping up a government that has limited capabilities of its own. The police chief's ninja-fighting bravado was spurred by the mysterious murders of a teenage girl in December and an infant child in January. But, critics say, his campaign masks the misdeeds and brutality of the country's own police, who are slowly taking back control from a force of international peackeepers. Moreover, the threat of "ninjas" resonates deep in the psyche of a nation still traumatized and torn by years of occupation and civil strife. "This idea of a masked man, of a covert agent that's difficult to identify — a kind of ghost — haunts this place," says Silas Everett, country director for East Timor at the Asia Foundation.
The term "ninja" in East Timor doesn't quite evoke a real band of fighters, but a hidden, sometimes imaginary menace stalking the country. It came into parlance in the 1990s, when shadowy militias backed by the Indonesian army targeted East Timorese independence activists. Villages were terrorized and countless people kidnapped and killed in the dark by men garbed in black. It's estimated that over 100,000 East Timorese lost their lives during Indonesia's 24-year-long occupation of the former Portuguese colony. (The country's current population is a little over one million.) The fear of the death squads played into ancient archipelago lore of a lurking, shapeless apparition that snatches babies and horses in the dead of the night. In a country where forms of witchcraft and sorcery are still widely practiced, the new, real danger of the ninja acquired mystical properties. It's still not uncommon, say researchers, for East Timorese to leave a glass of water outside their door, a knife bobbing within, to ward off the nocturnal ninja.
The new police campaign has not turned up anything quite as fantastical, arresting 20 members of a ragtag dissident group in February. Observers and members of Dili-based NGOs say the police are possibly exploiting the specter of a ninja threat to settle political scores. This is not uncommon in East Timor — despite its small size, the country is riven with a tangled mess of factions and enmities. Fissures remain between those from the west and east of the country, as well as camps once loyal and once opposed to colonial rule under Lisbon and later Jakarta. Divisions within the army led to widespread violence in 2006 that was calmed only by the intervention of peacekeepers sent by Australia and a handful of other nations. In 2008, a unit of renegade soldiers nearly succeeded in a brazen attempt to assassinate both East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel laureate, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. With society so fragmented and law and order so fragile, gangs have come to fill the void.
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UN verdict on East Timor
Sian Powell, Jakarta correspondent
The Australian, January 19, 2006
THE Indonesian military used starvation as a weapon to exterminate the East Timorese, according to a UN report documenting the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians at the hands of the occupying forces.
The 2500-page report, obtained by The Australian, has been suppressed for months by the East Timorese Government and will infuriate Indonesia, which has punished only a handful of soldiers for the murders, assaults and rapes that occurred during its 24 years of occupation.
Napalm and chemical weapons, which poisoned the food and water supply, were used by Indonesian soldiers against the East Timorese in the brutal invasion and annexation of the half-island to Australia's north, according to the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report.
The violence culminated in the 1999 reprisals for the independence vote, when the Indonesian military and its militia proxies rampaged through East Timor, killing as many as 1500 people and destroying most of the towns.
The report blames the Indonesian government and the security forces for the deaths of as many as 183,000 civilians, more than 90per cent of whom died from hunger and illness.http://www.yale.edu/gsp/east_timor/unverdict.html
UN verdict on East Timor
REMOTE WEST TIMOR (CNN) -- Maria's labored breath echoes within the walls of her family's mud hut. Her tiny, bony hands open and close in slow claw-like motions.
She's 15 months old, but weighs just 10 pounds -- one of countless children under the age of 5 facing severe malnutrition in Indonesia's West Timor. A typical infant weighs about 24 pounds at 15 months.
"Maria sleeps most of the time. Sometimes she cries but not often," her 25-year-old mother Adolphina Fao says softly.V
Maria is fighting to live, wasting away in her remote village where aid officials say climate change has brought on a severe drought in recent years. It's nearly impossible for residents to live off the land like they have for generations.
"It's hard to feed her," her mother says. "Some are good days, some are bad. Sometimes she eats a whole plate, sometimes nothing."
As Fao speaks, she spoons glutinous rice into Maria's tiny mouth. The baby spits out most of it.
Aid officials say Maria is one example of a chronic crisis that has been worsening in West Timor, the Indonesian portion of the island of Timor that is home to about 1.5 million people.
According to a joint survey by aid groups Church World Service, Helen Keller International and CARE, more than 50 percent of children under 5 in West Timor are suffering from malnutrition. In some areas it's as high as 70 percent -- a higher percentage than areas of Africa.
Of those, nearly 1 in every 10 children suffer from acute malnutrition, meaning they are near death, according to organizers. The study also found that 61 percent of the children suffer from stunted growth.
"Stunting is the result of extended periods of inadequate food intake, poor dietary quality, increased morbidity or a combination of these factors," the study says. "This finding indicates that the diet has been very poor quality for a very long time."REMOTE WEST TIMOR (CNN) -- Maria's labored breath echoes within the walls of her... more