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Falintil (or FALINTIL) originally began as the military wing of the Fretilin political party of East Timor. It was established on the 20th of August 1975 as a response to FRETILIN’s conflicting political interests with the Democratic Union for Timor-Leste (UDT).

The name FALINTIL is an acronym of its full name in Portuguese, Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste. In English this translates as 'The Armed Forces for the National Liberation of Timor Leste'.

Indonesian invasion

FALINTIL gained most of its initial military units when most the former Portuguese garrison forces in the territory switched allegiance to FALINTIL in August 1975, after the Portuguese withdrawal.

At the time of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 FALINTIL consisted of 2,500 regular troops, 7,000 who had some Portuguese military training, and 10,000 who had attended short military instruction courses, a total of 20,000.

The first Commander of FALINTIL was Nicolau Lobato. Lobato was killed during a battle with the Indonesian armed forces in 1978 and Xanana Gusmão was elected as his replacement during a Secret National Conference in Lacluta, Viqueque in 1981. This meeting in 1981 also saw the formation of the Revolutionary Council of National Resistance (in Portuguese Conselho Revolucinario de Resistencia Nacional or CNNR) which was the first step in uniting the different resistance movement factions under one umbrella organisation.

Resistance struggle

Throughout the 1980s Gusmão, leading both FALINTIL and the CNNR resistance unification movement, began distancing himself from the FRETILIN party and began the movement to make FALINTIL non-partisan and for it to become the armed resistance wing of the unified resistance movement. On the 12th of May 1983 Gusmão proclaimed the convergence of all nationalists in their struggle against the Indonesian occupation and by April 1984 Gusmão had proclaimed the ideological independence of FRETILIN from the overall resistance movement, and beginning the re-structure of the armed resistance movement. On the 5th of May 1985 Gusmão sent the FRETILIN Central Committee, operating in exile, a message informing them of the structure of the CNNR and assuming the title of Commander in Chief of FALINTIL. Significant progress in the unification of the resistance movement occurred in March 1986 when FRETILIN and UDT agreed to the creation of the "nationalist convergence".

On the 20th of June 1988 the National Resistance of East Timorese Students or RENETIL (Resistencia Nacional dos Estudantes de Timor-Leste) was created in Indonesia, reporting directly to FALINTIL and its Commander in Chief Xanana Gusmão. On the 31st of December 1988 Gusmão officially announced that FALINTIL was now the non-partisan armed resistance wing of the unified resistance movement, which was now to be known as the National Council of Maubere Resistance or CNRM (Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Maubere).

The month of May in 1990 was significant in the history of FALINTIL and the overall resistance movement. Between the 23rd and the 28th of May 1990, CNRM held an extraordinary meeting for the purposes of restructuring the entire resistance movement. It was during this conference that Gusmão officially resigned from the FRETILIN party, whilst remaining Commander-in-Chief of FALINTIL and the president of CNRM. This meeting also saw the formation of the Clandestine Front, which came about from the recognition that FALINTIL, the armed resistance, had been significantly weakened by years and years of guerilla activity against the Indonesian military and the formation of the Clandestine Front was a strategy aimed at the organisation of the population against the occupying Indonesian forces. These events saw an upsurge in activity against the unified resistance movement by the occupying forces, which saw many of the leaders flee to the mountains or overseas, and led ultimately to the arrest of Gusmão on the 20th of November 1992. Ma'Huno, who had been on FRETILIN's steering committee in the restructure of the resistance movement became the leader of the resistance only to be arrested himself a short time later on the 5th of April 1993. Nino Konis Santana replaced the arrested Ma'Huno as leader on the 25th of April 1993 and by September of that year all factions of the resistance accepted Santana as leader of the overall movement and appointed Taur Matan Ruak as commander of FALINTIL. Under Santana's leadership the restructuring started by Gusmão was further reinforced under the CNRM umbrella with Santana as leader of the Executive Council of "the Struggle", Ruak in charge of FALINTIL, and a man called Sabalae taking charge of the Clandestine Front.

Throughout the 1990s the occupying Indonesian forces stepped up their actions against the resistance and factional troubles between FRETILIN and other resistance organisations plagued the CNRM, with FRETILIN members signing a document against the leadership of Santana. Sabalae, the leader of the Clandestine Front, disappeared in June 1995. Gusmão remained supreme leader of CNRM and Commander in Chief of FALINTIL despite being incarcerated in an Indonesian prison. In 1998 Santana died in an accident and the FALINTIL commander, Ruak, was elected as leader of "the Struggle", whilst also remaining operational commander of FALINTIL. In April of 1998 during the National Convention of East Timorese Living Abroad, held in Portugal, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (Conselho Nacional Resitencia Timorense - CNRT) was formed, replacing CNRM and reinforcing the previous attempts to unify all the factions of the resistance struggle against Indonesia.

Towards independence

1999 was the landmark turning point in the struggle against Indonesian occupation and in the history of FALINTIL. Changes in the Indonesian government, together with growing international pressure, saw Indonesian President BJ Habibie announce a referendum for the East Timorese people to vote on autonomy. The Indonesians also announced that if autonomy was rejected, that would open the door for independence. The Indonesian military provided arms to pro-Indonesian militias to "encourage" the population to vote in favour of autonomy. On the 10th August 1999 Gusmao ordered FALINTIL to remain in the cantonments and resist all provocations of the Indonesian military and the armed militias, and not to get involved in the mayhem being orchestrated by the Indonesian military. These orders were generally complied with by FALINTIL, with their fighters remaining in their secret camps during the referendum process. On the 30th of August voting in the referendum took place with 98% of registered voters turning out. By the 4th of September the UN announced that 78.5% had voted against Autonomy, therefore beginning the process of independence. The following day, the 5th of September, the Indonesian Military and the pro-autonomy militias, in response to the referendum, began a massive campaign of looting and violence against the East Timorese people. Gusmão and the CNRT leadership maintained that FALINTIL must resist the urge to join the fight and remain in their cantonments. On the 20th of September INTERFET, the Australian army-led, UN-sanctioned military force, landed in East Timor to counter the activities of the armed militias and attempt to restore peace. One of INTERFET's mandates was to disarm all the various factions in East Timor including FALINTIL. Under advice from the now recently released Xanana Gusmao, INTERFET and the UN allowed FALINTIL to remain armed, in their cantonments until peace was restored at which time they would hand over their arms.

The last Commander in Chief of FALINTIL was Commander Taur Matan Ruak.

East Timorese armed forces

On 1 February 2001 FALINTIL was officially dissolved, only to be almost immediately resurrected as the official armed force of the newly independent East Timor to be known as FALINTIL – Força de Defesa de Timor Leste (F-FDTL), with a duty under the East Timor constitution to "guarantee the independence of the nation, its territorial integrity, and the freedom and safety of the population against aggression, which does not respect the constitutional order". Taur Matan Ruak became the first Commander of F-FDTL and assumed the rank of Brigadier General.

References and Sources

  • East Timorese Resistance Museum, 'Resistencia Timorensia Arkivu ho Muzeu'

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