Crime in Timor Leste: Travel Safety Tips

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Frequent outbursts of violence and crippling poverty make East Timor a volatile place. Here's how to stay safe.

Timor Leste landscape Photo © Getty Images/urf

The first thing you notice when you walk the streets of Timor L'Este are the groups of unemployed young men sitting around.

And it doesn't take a genius to work out the lack of any real economy and the lack of any work is not only behind the frequent outbreaks of violence and political protest but also crime in the nation, especially in the capital, Dili.

In recent years there have been signs Chinese Triad gangs have infiltrated the country and are involved in people trafficking, prostitution and the drug trade.

There have been a number of arrests for people trafficking. Perpetrators have been caught trying to get undocumented Timor L'Esteese girls out of the territory to Indonesia.

Drugs are an increasing problem in the country.

An autopsy revealed the rebel leader responsible for the 2008 attack on Timor L'Este's President Jose Ramos Horta was on the drug ‘ice', from the amphetamine family of stimulants, at the time.

Corruption is also a significant issue with rumours local police and politicians may have varying levels of involvement with criminal activity.

So there is significant lawlessness in the territory.

Petty crime and not-so-petty crime

As a traveler it is wise to be aware robbery does occur. And in some cases thieves have been armed.

Foreigners have also had bags snatched and have even assaulted.

So it is extremely important to remember to avoid traveling alone or at night.

These incidents have been most common in Dili and on and around the beaches that surround the capital.

Leaving things unattended in vehicles is inadvisable. 'Smash and grab' style theft of property from vehicles occurs.

There have also been cases of intruders breaking into homes known to be occupied by foreigners.

There is a history of gang-related violence, robbery, arson and vandalism in major towns, particularly Dili, Maliana, Suai and Same.

Rocks have been thrown at vehicles, particularly during the early evening and at night.

Obviously it is wise to avoid armed groups of people, including martial arts groups, both in the districts and in Dili.

Harassment and violence against women, including expatriate women, has been reported, including near the Christo Rei (the statue of Jesus which overlooks the capital).

Security forces also still have concerns about criminal activity in the border regions.

Disturbances have occurred in the vicinity of Dili's Comoro airport, areas surrounding internally displaced persons camps, and at food storage warehouses.

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