José Maria Vasconcelos, famously known as Taur Matan Ruak (Tetum for "Two Sharp Eyes") is an East Timorese politician who was elected as President of East Timor in April 2012. Before entering politics, he was the Commander of the FALINTIL-Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL), the military of East Timor, from 2002 until October 6, 2011. Prior to serving in the F-FDTL, he was the last commander of the Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor or FALINTIL (Forças Armadas para a Liberação Nacional de Timor Leste), the insurgent army which resisted the Indonesian occupation of the island, from 1975 to 1999.
Leaving the military in 2011, he stood as an independent candidate in the 2012 presidential election and prevailed in the second round of the vote, held in April 2012.
On 7 December 1975, when Indonesia invaded East Timor, Taur Matan Ruak took to the hills with the recently formed FRETILIN Army, FALINTIL. As a combatant, he participated in battles against the Indonesian military in Dili, Aileu, Maubisse, Ossu, Venilale, Uatulari and finally in Laga on the northeastern coast, where he eventually stayed. Major-General Ruak’s first official FALINTIL appointment was at the end of 1976. From 1976 to 1979, he rose through the FALINTIL ranks in the two eastern military sectors, the Central East Sector and the Eastern Point, or the Ponta Leste Sector. Then he became a company commander.
Taur Matan Ruak and others regrouped the following day at the base of Monte Legumau (Monte Apara) and recommenced guerrilla operations after the collapse of the last Timorese resistance base at Matebian Mountain on 22 November 1978. He was ordered to carry out guerrilla activities in the east after the death of Commander Nicolau Lobato in December 1978. During a mission to locate survivors of the annihilation campaign, Taur Matan Ruak was captured in the Viqueque area by Indonesian army forces on 31 March 1979. After 23 days he managed to escape and rejoin other FALINTIL forces in the mountains.
In March 1981 he was appointed Assistant Chief-of-Staff of FALINTIL, responsible for the operational command of the Eastern Sectors and later the Central Sector. Taur Matan Ruak was promoted and made responsible for strategic planning of commando operations in the Eastern sector in March 1983. Between 1984 and 1986 Brigadier Ruak was transferred and served as military adviser for commando operations in the Western Sector. After nearly 10 years of operational experience he was promoted to Deputy Chief-of-Staff. After 1986, he was responsible for all commando operations throughout Timor Leste.
In November 1992, Commander-in-Chief Xanana Gusmão was captured in Dili. Taur Matan Ruak was promoted to Chief-of-Staff. Mr. Ruak became the Commander of FALINTIL after the death of Commander Konis Santana on 11 March 1998. Xanana Gusmão resigned from FALINTIL and Taur Matan Ruak was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of FALINTIL. With the Restoration of Independence on 20 May 2002 he became the Chefe Estado Maior General Forças Armadas (CEMGFA or Chief of the Armed Forces) and was promoted to Major General in 2009.
General Ruak is married to Isabel da Costa Ferreira.
Events since restoration of independence
Taur Matan Ruak played a role on the 2006 East Timorese crisis. On 2 October 2006, the United Nations Independent Special Commission of Inquiry made a number of recommendations including that several individuals be prosecuted. Notably, it found that Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, and Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues and Defence Force Chief Taur Matan Ruak acted illegally in transferring weapons to civilians during the crisis.
Ruak resigned from his position as commander of the F-FDTL on 1 September 2011. At the time there was speculation that he was considering running for president. Ruak stated that he would make a decision on standing for election during 2012.
He was formally decommissioned by President José Ramos-Horta on 6 October 2011.