Timor Leste community seals deal to halt local conflict

02 Aug 2011

imageThe ceremony, known locally as a Tara Bandu, brought more than 500 villagers together to witness the communal agreement (Photo: Sandra Magno/UNDP)

Dili – A long-running and violent dispute over land between two communities in the district of Metinaro, east of Timor-Leste’s capital Dili, ended today with a dance, a prayer, a speech and the sacrifice of two farmyard animals.

The celebration, including the killing of a pig and goat, came at the end of a three-month community dialogue that combined formal negotiation techniques with informal and traditional methods of dispute resolution.

“We talk about democracy, but we forgot how to respect each other,” said Adão de Araújo, the Administrator of Metinaro, one of Dili district’s most populated areas. “We have now found a way to love our community and stop violence.”

Nearly 36 members of three rival martial arts groups and elder representatives from two villages signed a document pledging to respect the environment, cease using violence to solve their disputes, stop occupying others’ land and end hunting in protected areas.

The ceremony, known locally as a Tara Bandu, brought more than 500 villagers together to witness the communal agreement.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been working with the Timorese government to strengthen its ability to keep such local disputes from turning into larger and more violent conflicts.

The US$3 million UNDP programme provided technical and financial assistance to create a new department within the Ministry of Social Solidarity to intervene in local disputes when villagers are unable to reach agreements on their own and they turn violent.

The programme established the Department of Peace-Building and Social Cohesion, training national mediators Ermera, Dili and Baucau districts and community and traditional leaders as well as council members in mediation techniques, including dialogue facilitation.

Metinaro was the worst affected of all the zones in Dili district during the island’s pre-independence violence of 1999 and was hit again in 2006 by a national crisis that stemmed from grievances within the police and military.

Some 150,000 people fled their homes after the 2006 violence, finding shelter in 65 camps scattered throughout Dili and its districts. On their return at the end of 2009, disputes broke out over land and property between rival martial arts groups and a large number of unemployed.

Some of the newly trained mediators helped resolve the Metinaro dispute, the third local conflict solved through assistance from the newly created peace-building department.

“We have to create peace, unity and stability,” said Félix Rodrigues, a representative from one of the martial arts group that signed the Metinaro pledge. “Future problems cannot be solved with violence, but instead we have to bring them to local authorities to find our own solutions.”

Timor-Leste is preparing for national elections in 2012 and the drawdown of the country’s UN peace-keeping mission.