Anatomy of a Conflict: The 2006-2007 Communal Violence in East Timor

The 2006-2007 communal conflict in East Timor was starkly revealing of the fragility of national identity and also of the existence of deep-seated social tensions. These tensions were embodied by a wide range of warring social groups such as gangs, veterans groups and martial arts groups. A number of recent analyses have alluded to the political and ethnic nature of both the conflict and these groups. However, the manner in which all these groups emerged and interacted at different stages of the conflict did not always conform to static political and ethnic allegiances. This paper examines the internal dynamics of these groups’ interactions; and how these groups prioritised often conflicting political, ethnic and social identities at different times during this two-year period. It argues that to frame more effective security and development responses and more effectively predict future conflict, we must first comprehend the complex, multi-layered nature of contemporary communal conflict in East Timor.

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