The small half-an-island nation of East Timor is known in the West for its
violent struggle for independence from Indonesia and for its
2006 crisis over alleged military discrimination. Now, according to
East Timorese authorities, the country is currently facing a national
security threat from ... well, we'll let East Timor speak for itself. AFP reports
on a recent large-scale
police operation: "Police chief Longuinhos Monteiro donned full
military gear to lead the operation, telling reporters that 'any ninjas
who want to take us on, your final stop will be Santa Cruz cemetery.'"
- It's Not What You Think Global Voices' Keta Haluha sighs, "these are
not the ninja of Japanese lore."
Are These 'Ninjas'? Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating explains,
"The term was used to describe the Indonesian death squads blamed for a
series of disappearances and kidnappings during East Timor's war for
independence. Even that explanation might be bogus as some observers
believe that the two murders are just ordinary crimes that the
government is blaming on ninjas to discredit the political opposition.
Indeed, 22 members of of one dissident group were arrested earlier this
month on suspicion of 'ninja activities.'"
To understand the way of the East Timor ninja, one has to look at the
nation itself. After becoming formally independent in 2002, East Timor
remains very much a fledgling — even experimental — state with a pack of
international institutions and NGOs propping up a government that has
limited capabilities of its own. The police chief's ninja-fighting
bravado was spurred by the mysterious murders of a teenage girl in
December and an infant child in January. But, critics say, his campaign
masks the misdeeds and brutality of the country's own police, who are
slowly taking back control from a force of international peackeepers.
Moreover, the threat of "ninjas" resonates deep in the psyche of a
nation still traumatized and torn by years of occupation and civil
strife. "This idea of a masked man, of a covert agent that's difficult
to identify — a kind of ghost — haunts this place," says Silas Everett,
country director for East Timor at the Asia Foundation.
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