East Timor Ministry of Social Solidarity: Community Dialogue in Suco Bahalara-ua'in
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL SOLIDARITY PRESS RELEASE 5 March 2009 Community Dialogue in Suco Bahalara-ua’in - On 28 February 2009, the MSS/UNDP Dialogue teams organised a community dialogue in Suco Bahalara-ua’in (Buikarin), Viqueque. The dialogue was held in the form of a Nahe Biti Bo’ot or ‘stretching of the big mat’ conflict resolution ceremony in order to attempt to resolve a conflict that broke out in January 2009.
In early January, 118 families fled their homes in Suco Bahalara-ua’in to a church in Viqueque town as a result of a fighting between members of rival martial arts groups. The conflict has its roots in a dispute that arose in 1974 and was exacerbated by the Indonesian occupation as the four aldeias in the suco aligned themselves along ‘pro-independence’ and ‘pro-integration’ lines.
The Government reacted quickly to the January 2009 conflict to ensure the 118 families could return to their homes, and thus avoid the possibility of another long-term IDP displacement crisis. The day after the confrontation, the Minister of State Administration, the Secretary of State for Social Assistance and Natural Disasters, and the Secretary of State for Defence, [BML1] travelled to Suco Bahalara-ua’in to try to resolve the dispute. At the request of the Prime Minister, and under the leadership of F-FDTL’s Major Ular the MSS/UNDP Baucau dialogue team had held a number of preparatory dialogues with the community over the preceding two months, who decided they wanted to try and achieve reconciliation through a Nahe Biti Bo’ot ceremony.
The 28 February 2009 also benefited from high level participation, including the attendance of five Secretaries of State, the Deputy Provedor, Major Ular, and the Deputy Commander of the PNTL. Major Ular, appealed to the people of Suco Bahalara-ua’in “to lay the fighting to rest, to stop passing down the problems from generation to generation so that we can move forward together as one people.”
The Secretary of State for Social Assistance and Natural Disasters, Jacinto Rigoberto Gomes, thanked the people of Suco Bahalara-ua’in for participating in the dialogue process and narrating the history of the suco in an attempt to resolve the conflict in peace. He explained “only by resolving these localised conflicts will we be able to move forward and develop our nation. This government has been working hard to give meaning to our country’s independence. When the people can live peacefully together, other aspects of the country’s development will also improve.” He appealed to the people of Suco Bahlara-ua’in to try to resolve future disputes in a peaceful manner or to bring them to the local authorities or relevant institutions to try to resolve.
During the dialogue, youth representatives of three martial arts groups in Suco Bahlara-ua’in were asked to come forward and sign a document agreeing not to fight each other again. At the end of the Nahe Biti Bo’ot ceremony, community representatives also signed an agreement that the conflict was over. Those who participated believe that to go against the proclaimed outcomes of a nahe biti ceremony is to anger the spirits and to bring bad luck and ill health upon the perpetrator and their family. One of the Lia Nain (keepers of the word) explained “what happened in 1975, 1999 and earlier this year is over. It has been resolved by adat (custom). Now is the time for us to move forward.”