The Crisis in Timor-Leste: Restoring National Unity through State Institutions, Culture, and Civil Society

Rebecca Ellen Engel is an Associate Research Scholar with Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR). Based in Timor-Leste since 2002, Engel opened the Center’s first full-time field office. She is currently working on a broader research effort with support from the Ford Foundation in review of contributions to Timor-Leste from the international community (FRIDE, 19/10/06):

The Context in Brief:

Timor-Leste is in the throes of a national crisis. Over the past several months, tens of thousands of people have fled the capital, seeking refuge in family homes across the country or in the makeshift Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps that sprang up virtually over night throughout Dili and the surrounding districts. International forces contributed by Australia,
New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal have reduced the use of small arms violence. While looting and burning of homes and businesses continues, it has decreased considerably. Many are quick to point out the East/West nature of the violence.The reality, however, is much more complex and the actors in this unstable situation are many.

Ultimately, systemic and structural causes of conflict must be addressed if future conflict is to be prevented. Political processes must become more transparent and, at the same time, the UN and international agencies must consider the post-conflict tensions and nuanced relationships among communities when designing development programmes.Today, in part, we are seeing the impact of the policies and programmes of the government as well as of the international community that did not adequately act upon such factors.

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