[TimorLesteStudies] New ICG Report

Bu Wilson bu.wilson at anu.edu.au
Thu May 20 21:49:20 EST 2010

  Timor-Leste: Oecusse and the Indonesian Border
 Dili/Brussels, 20 May 2010: The security threat at Indonesia  and Timor-Leste’s shared border has decreased sharply since the latter’s  2002 independence, but failure to finalise agreement on the border and  normalise cross-border traffic could allow limited but long-standing  local disputes to escalate.  

 Timor-Leste: Oecusse and the Indonesian Border,*  the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines  the relationship between the two countries, which have done much to  normalise relations and to leave their violent past behind. Yet, Crisis  Group also notes that growing goodwill between the capitals is not yet  matched by full cooperation on the border. The costs are greatest in  Oecusse, Timor-Leste’s isolated enclave of 67,000 inhabitants inside  Indonesian West Timor.  The two countries have so far failed to agree on two segments of its  border, and there is a risk that this unfinished business could threaten  fresh conflict.  

“The governments must work with renewed urgency to resolve the  remaining disputed segments”, says Cillian Nolan, Crisis Group Analyst.  “At the same time, they need to make greater efforts to promote local  arrangements for cross-border activities. Otherwise, local disputes will  fester and could escalate. The lack of a cheap and legal way for trade  and cultural exchange promotes crime and corruption”.  

 Beyond security threats, there are border management challenges  over the movement of people and goods. Though the enclave has been  politically distinct for several hundred years, links remain strong  between families divided by the border. Isolated from the rest of  Timor-Leste, residents depend on cheap goods from Indonesia. Informal  arrangements have served to facilitate these relations in the absence of  a sustainable system that would promote rather than criminalise local  traffic. But these are often put on hold when border tensions rise,  increasing difficulties in Oecusse.  

 As Indonesia and Timor-Leste work on being good neighbours, they  should focus on concrete actions that improve life for the people and  lessen the risk of conflict on both sides. Final border demarcation  would be a key step, so would formalising arrangements for increased  communication and problem-solving between local officials and security  forces.   

 The sides should move quickly to implement an agreed border-pass  system and border markets to promote commercial and social exchange,  which would immediately benefit both. Steps for civilian coordination of  border matters should continue, with priority on local arrangements to  manage resource conflicts. Maintaining good ties should not be left to  casual encounters at border posts by frequently rotated security forces.  Peaceful border management requires cultivating better contacts between  civilian officials and elected governments.  

“Boosting normal ties for Oecusse depends more on bureaucrats and  politicians than soldiers and police”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis  Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “A less militarised soft  border may be unlikely in the near term, but it should remain on the  agenda as a long-term goal that both sides should actively work toward”.  

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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
Andrew  Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott  (Washington) +1 202 785 1602
To contact Crisis Group media  please click here
 The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent,  non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60  crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents,  working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent  and resolve deadly conflict. -----------------------------------------------------------

Bu V.E. Wilson
Regulatory Institutions Network  RegNet  | The Australian National University | Canberra ACT 0200 | AUSTRALIA | Mob: +61  0 407 087 086

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