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Access to Land and Livelihoods in Post-conflict Timor-Leste

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East Timor gained formal independence in 2002. Its extended history of internal displacement through colonial territorialisation strategies and conflict has produced an array of contesting land claims, informal land use and occupation, and socio-political conflict. Correspondingly, the Timor-Leste (or East Timor) government has looked to formal land registration and titling to resolve historical and contemporary tensions over land. The proposed national land laws concentrate on land ownership, which overlooks the social relations at work to shape local land access and livelihoods. A case study of a rural village, Mulia, forcibly resettled during the Indonesian occupation, demonstrates how settlers negotiate access to customary land for livelihoods despite ongoing land conflicts with the customary landowners. Settlers have continually adapted to broader economic and political constraints to create diverse and multi-local livelihoods, and established a moral economy between themselves, landowners and the local spirit realm. This paper argues that formal land titles are unlikely to resolve the ambiguities and complexities of diverse forms of access to and ownership of land.
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Keywords: Displacement; Timor-Leste (East Timor); access; land; livelihood; post-conflict; resettlement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: College of Asia and Pacific,Australian National University, Australia

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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