Technical Assistance to the National Dialogue in Timor Leste
Rethinking Timorese Identity as a Peacebuilding Strategy: The Lorosa’e – Loromonu Conflict from a Traditional Perspective
Since 2006 East Timor, the world’s youngest nation has been faced with a crisis of internalconflict. During the course of the past year a deepening regional and social division hasbecome tangible (and violent on a larger scale) for the first time since independence. Thisconflict or division was defined by animosities, distrust and eventually street fights betweenpeople considered to be either of
(Western) region andbackground. Violence erupted out of widespread perceptions that discrimination againstsuch regional groupings permeated state institutions, particularly in the security sector. Fromhere unrest spread and led to the large-scale displacement of parts of the population that isstill ongoing.The most significant damage caused by this crisis was to the internal relationships that haduntil then bound the country together. This damage still threatens relations between theinstitutions of governance and those that they govern, as well as interpersonal relationships.The legacy of a failure to adequately address and transform the current situation will be fearand mistrust, providing fertile ground for future conflict in East Timor and hindering theprocesses of nation-building often considered to have been successful up until the crisis.What has been neglected though is that - while the economic indicators were positive - lesstangible processes of cultural transformation and identity politics, in particular the (non-)formation of a shared national identity, were given little consideration and effort thus far.Meanwhile recent government-sponsored dialogue and peace-making initiatives byinternational actors present in East Timor have shown little impact on the sentiments androot causes underlying the eruption of violence last year. In particular, there has been littleeffect on countering the trend of a deepening social divide between
that is evolving into a kind of ‘ethnic polarisation’ of regional and social distinctions, which -though historically developed during colonial times and surfacing at different moments in-between - had previously not been violent on any large scale. The study set out to explorewhy any measures tried until now to address and resolve the conflict and transformsentiments have not worked well. Many causal factors - political, economic, and legal - havebeen mentioned in previous research, but one facet has remained underexplored: gaining adeeper understanding of local cultural understandings and views of the crisis as well as localideas for processes of resolution and long-term transformation. At the core of the
Lorosa’e - Loromonu
conflict, respondents stated, is a fundamental discord that pinpoints some of thefaultlines present in current processes of social change in East Timor since independence.Such faultlines refer to the fluidity and tension between modern-traditional; urban-rural;elder-youth; migrant-local; and not least between the world views and values at stake. Forinstance, much of the rural population finds that at the core of the new regional conflict is animbalance between the physical-material and the spiritual-ancestral worlds. Hence, the studydescribes in detail some of the local ideas and conceptions of conflict as well as enduring,age-old structures and practices of conflict management, resolution and prevention in EastTimor.Based on the ideas of respondents in seven districts and an appraisal of two recent peaceinitiatives in Dili, the study then proposes the careful and considerate use of traditionalTimorese concepts and practices such as Nahe Biti Bo’ot [a traditional dialogue process]and Juramentu [a blood oath to seal a settlement or agreement] in future peace processesaimed at transforming the Lorosa’e - Loromonu conflict in the long-term.