Indonesia, East Timor: Border Dispute Heats Up

On 4 October 2009 the Timorese online media TimorOhin [Tet.] [TimorToday], reported that an old border dispute between Indonesia and East Timor has flared up once again in the Oecusse Enclave.

Broadcasting a radio report in the Tetun language from Candidus Elu of Radio Atoni Oecusse, TimorToday reported that;

Polisia fronteira detein TNI nain 9 tama illegal iha Oe-Cusse [Tet.]

Border police detains 9 TNI [Indonesian Army] for illegal entry into Oe-Cusse.

The full story has an MP3 file which can be downloaded via the TimorOhin website here.

It has also been picked up by blogger TimorNewsNetwork as well.  On 5 October, the weekly Tempo Semanal blogged an internet feature out of it.

TimorOhin provides a service for previously unheard journalists from the far reaches of Timor-Leste to report to the nation at large, Timorese, abroad, and the international community.

In the story Radio Atoni Oecusse reporter Elu explains that the community of border village Naktuka in Subdistrict Nitibe, working with the Timorese Border Police detained 9 members of the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) for illegal entry into Timor-Leste on 3 October 2009.

Google Maps shows a missing border

Google Maps shows a missing border

Radio Atoni Oecusse quotes Simao de Carvalho, Chefe Suco (village head) of Ben-Ufe (within which Naktuka is located), as saying that the TNI entered Timor-Leste at 0900 with military vehicles and that they were armed. However, by 1400 Timorese National Police Headquarters in Dili instructed local authorities to release the TNI and allow them to return to Indonesia.  Radio Atoni Oecusse quotes local youth as being upset that Timorese are jailed for illegal border crossings but not the Indonesian Army.  Local police have explained to residents that the border area remains disputed and that decision to release the TNI came from the highest levels in Dili.

This is an old border dispute.  Both the Dili Insider and East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin blogs carried news about a brewing problem in June 2009. At stake is a rice paddy complex in contested land, in addition to a betel nut forest which has significant traditional “adat” importance to people across the Oecusse Enclave.

The dispute predates June and is part of a wider set of border issues in the Enclave.  Most notably, after a show of force by the TNI, including a fighter jet and a gunboat in January 2004, Timor-Leste ceded ownership of the island Pulau Batek, or Fatu Sinai as it is known in Oecusse, to Indonesia in 2005.  Public opinion in the Enclave was resigned frustration mixed with a refusal to cede Naktuka if asked.

Significantly, this is not the first time that TNI have been detained in this area.  During the Fatu Sinai / Batek spat, Timorese police detained TNI in the same area.

In June Indonesian blogger berita hankam posted a story in which TNI border commander Lt.Col. Yunianto is quoted as saying,

TNI hanya bertugas menjaga keamanan dan pertahanan negara. Sehingga kami tidak bisa masuk ke wilayah yang diduduki untuk mengusir warga Timor Leste tersebut. Kami sudah menyampaikan protes keras kepada polisi penjaga perbatasan Timor Leste,” lanjutnya. [Bahasa]

TNI's only duty is the security and defence of the country.  So we do not go into the area which is the responsibility of someone else to order the Timorese community out.  We already sent a strong protest to the Timorese border police.

Close Up of Naktuka Area - from Dili Insider

Close Up of Naktuka Area – from Dili Insider

Some important people on the Indonesian side of the border have spoken publicly and aggressively over the matter of who owns Naktuka.  The Dili Insider reveals that Robby Manoh, quoted by the Jakarta Globe saying “if this injustice continues, we have no choice but to force”, is actually the King of Amfoan community – across the border from Naktuka.

Indonesian blogger Radio Sahabat reported that Manoh had again raised the issue of Naktuka with the Governor of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) province less than a month ago.

Interestingly, with the case of Maternus Bere, former pro-Indonesia militia commander penned up in the Indonesian Embassy, in addition to recent tri-lateral security and development meeting between Indonesian, Australia and Timor-Leste – Indonesia is putting pressure on Dili via one of its soft spots.  The soft spot being Dili's 60,000 citizens in the enclave in Indonesian West Timor – Oecusse.


  • Rija

    Hello, I hope the border dispute can be resolved quickly. Indonesian and Timorese are very closed in term of culture and physical appearance.
    Don’t shed anymore bloodshed against each other. Indonesia needs to use soft approach towards the Timorese because East Timor is very weak now, and she is under occupation by the Aussies/the British.
    Otherwise The Aussies/the British will create havoc in the region again.

  • […] Pinto visited a far distant corner of the country – the Oecusse enclave.  A long standing border spat between Indonesia and Timor-Leste has hotted up recently over the Naktuka settlement in …, thus causing this High Level defence visit.  Interestingly, the new Timorese navy was sent to the […]

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