The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Confidence-Building in Peacebuilding – Timor Leste

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on October 1, 2010

The involvement of Singapore in UN Peacekeeping operations has included a detachment to Timor Leste. Through research and fieldwork an assessment of the prospects and challenges to civilian deployment illustrates that confidence building with locals is a central component to operational success.

The overarching task for these peacekeepers was; reforming, rebuilding and restructuring a national Timorese police force. In Dili between April-May 2006, soldiers under the command of military police Major Alfredo Reinaldo, executed a full-blown assault on strategic government installations; the Ministry of Defence and the house of Timorese defence force commander. As a result 70 percent of police personnel deserted their posts. The ‘mutiny’ did not affect Timor’s districts as much as the capital city. Nevertheless, UN interventions have extended to the whole country. This is partly because the weak infrastructures in the districts were  conspicuous, alongside the problems in Dili.

Success of Knowledge Transfers Dependent on Confidence-Building


A significant aspect of peacebuilding work involves communicating with the locals in ‘Tetum’ (one of the spoken official languages in East Timor). The language barrier in itself, was mediated by a translator. Generally, residents from the districts were less receptive to interactions with peacekeepers and reforms they encouraged. One reason for this may be that residents in Dili experience phases of ‘development’ more directly, that is, their exposure to education, employment, technology and external affairs is greater than that experienced by residents in the districts.


Justice structures in district areas are based on traditional means of justice. Residents in the districts have limited knowledge of existing written laws and their application in conflict resolution. A high incidence of domestic violence on women is prevalent in district areas; underpinned by the patriarchal nature of district societies, low education and unemployment levels amongst women. The prevalent practice of traditional justice has led to under-reporting of domestic violence situations.

Various initiatives have been introduced to develop justice structures in Timor . However, outreach of these efforts are resisted by residents accustomed to traditional structures and unable to appreciate the need to change. To ensure increased and effective outreach of justice structures, non-governmental organisations have been encouraged to assist women in gaining access to education and employment in for example, local cottage industries. This additionally exemplifies the expansions in scope of peacekeeping missions and the nature of actors involved.


Reliance on technology was rare in district areas before UN missions began. UN Peacebuilding initiatives brought equipment such as; radio and visual, and transportation vehicles, to these areas as these were tools foreign forces were accustomed to working with. Generally, where there were no existing resources, the local people welcomed the logistical equipment. In other cases, there was a sense of resistance to revamp hitherto methods of operation. The role of peacekeeping personnel from the surrounding Southeast Asian regions, in advocating these changes was instrumental in mediating perceptions and cultural differences, with local Timorese.

Essentially, effective peacebuilding is premised on building ‘confidence’ between foreign peacekeepers and local Timorese. However, the high attrition rate of international peacekeepers undermines the continuity of these efforts.


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