East Timor bans martial-arts clubs as gangs wreak havoc on island

Xanana Gusmao, the prime minister, says he has run out of patience with the martial-arts gangs who cut off a student's hand with a samurai sword last month.

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DILI // There will be zero tolerance against those practicing martial arts after the East Timor government banned all clubs following gang violence.

At least 12 East Timorese have been killed and more than 200 injured in the past two years as a result of fighting among rival clubs, said Armando Monteiro, the country’s police chief. Two were killed in neighbouring Indonesia, while other deaths and injuries have occurred as far away as England and Ireland. He said the number of casualties is likely higher since many people are afraid to report gang activity or go to the hospital for treatment.

“Any martial arts clubs members that violate the government resolution will be dealt with under the law,” Monteiro said. There will be “zero tolerance for martial arts activities in the country.”

Martial-arts schools and clubs have a long history in East Timor, with many students in the past fighting against Indonesia’s military occupation. They also became active clandestine members in supporting guerrilla fighters and some made significant contributions towards winning the country’s independence in 2002.

Later, martial-arts students became rivals and began killing each other in the streets as happened in 2006 during a violent political crisis that left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced in the tiny half-island nation.

In many villages students start learning an adapted form of pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art, at age 13. It is now banned along with karate, kung fu, taekwondo and judo.

Xanana Gusmao, the prime minister, issued a resolution outlawing the popular clubs two months ago. He said he has tried to work with the groups for years to allow them to continue to operate peacefully.

“I have no more mercy and no more patience,” said Mr Gusmao, who added he has tried to work with the groups since becoming the country’s first president in 2002. “I cannot tolerate the situation anymore, and I cannot permit it anymore.”

Last month, a East Timorese student was killed at Widyagama University in Indonesia, and another had his hand cut off with a samurai sword by a martial-arts gang member.

“I need justice because the suspects who cut off my hand have not yet been captured,” said Jacinto Cipriano Ximenes, 25.

* Associated Press