Need to Reassess Means of Resolving Conflict:
Improving Government Reactions to Martial Art Groups
Conflict between Martial Art Groups (MAGs) continues to be a matter of public concern due to increasing incidents of fighting, assaults, fatalities, and destruction of property. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are registering incidents linked to MAGs every month. Fighting between MAGs has been part of the political dynamic of Timor-Leste since 2004, with MAGs being involved in politically-motivated violence across Timor-Leste at the behest of political leaders.
Although politicians have condemned the activities of MAGs, they continue to pose a risk to national security, especially if mobilized in support of political parties. This has occurred repeatedly, with political parties utilizing MAGs in attempts to secure and consolidate their power. The involvement of MAGs during the 2006 crisis was significant, resulting in deaths between different MAGs and amongst communities. It serves as a lesson for political parties who may consider mobilizing MAGs for acts of intimidation and violence, as in the end it is Timorese citizens, the very constituents that political parties purport to represent, who will suffer due to MAG violence.
As a result of the political mobilization of MAGs, riots and fighting have occurred in almost all municipalities across Timor-Leste. This has led to the government instituting preventative measures through legislative means. The first government effort to address MAG violence was through Law 10/2008, in which a regulatory commission called Federasaun Silat Timor-Leste (FESTIL) was created, and its 12 members formed as an organization for martial arts groups in Timor-Leste.
The resulting inactivity and lack of control by the commission that was created does not leave a good impression for their abilities to resolve MAG issues. The government initiative in which Martial Arts Leaders swore an oath to commit to the development of national unity by ceasing conflict has not come to fruition, and conflicts and disruptions to the public order continue.
In 2011, the Council of Ministers made a strong decision to introduce resolution no. 35/2011, a legal prohibition of MAGs to ensure the internal security and public order. A further declaration was made with resolution no. 24/2012, to “approve renewal for suspension of activities by Martial Arts Associations.” Through these resolutions, the reconciliation process was initiated among MAGs, as well as for members of the PNTL and F-FDTL who are also involved with MAGs. Finally, resolution no. 16/2013 declared the “Extinction of Martial Arts Groups,” in July 2013.
It was widely anticipated that such resolutions would result in the cessation of conflicts between MAGs, but time has shown this not to be the case. At the present, conflicts amongst MAG-affiliated youths are increasing and becoming more difficult to control. Further, MAGs are continuously recruiting members for illegal training, which involves crossing the border territory for graduation in Indonesia. In recent times, members of MAGs began launching videos in which they demonstrate their talents through competition in one-on-one combat against each other, using social media outlets like Facebook.
In light of these circumstances, Fundasaun Mahein recommends that the government re-invigorate its push to close MAG activities in accordance with the declared laws. The government must also create an environment in which disaffected youth may develop their talents, and utilize them to attract tourists. Rather than functioning as destructive gangs, they can use their talents to project an image of success and excitement for Timor-Leste’s future to the world.