|Issue No 29
|03 September 1999
By Liam Phelan and HT Lee
- for Workers Online in Dili
As the United Nations attempts to begin counting the votes from East Timor's independence referendum, the capital Dili is rapidly spiralling out of control.
Militia gangs are waging a campaign of fear and intimidation. They are engaged in a game of brinkmanship with United Naitons staff, international observers and the media. The aim seems to be to frighten outsiders enough to force evacuations. Once the media are gone, there will almost certainly be widespread bloodshed.
Militia gangs roam the streets by day, setting fires and carrying machetes and knives.
In the latest incidents (Thursday), a group of militia men burst into the Hotel Turismo and roughed up a Canadian aid worker.
Earlier, around midday, we witnessed a local man being chased by three others. They sprinted past us, in front of the Government House, and the men running away made it to a street, which the others would not at first go down. They waited a few minutes before a truck came to pick them up and carry them down the road.
As we watched a young Indonesian photographer hurried towards us. He had been about to take a photo of the chase when somebody pulled a pistol on him and told him to go away.
Last night (Wednesday) there was a major gun battle outside the UNAMET Headquarters at Balide. Aitarak militia surrounded the area and burned down the house of a local UNAMET aid worker. According to the UN, there are two people dead, one by stabbing and one by gunfire. Journalists were roughed up during the attack, and one man had to be escorted by police past militia. He was threatened with both guns and knives.
Local people and the media retreated inside the UNAMET compound for safety. The media were evacuated first, and later UNAMET staff. The locals remained inside the compound and there are plans today to get UNHCR to assist them.
While were standing outside the Safety of Media in East Timor (SOMET) office last night two militia members approached. One of them physically threatened HT Lee by threatening to hit him with a helmet. The other man had a machete ready to strike.
Militia is targeting Indonesian journalists as they see them as traitors. Foreign journalists, particularly Australians, are also targets for the local gangs. The road to the airport is ferquently blocked and people turned back.
At night, the situation gets worse, with widespread militia roadblocks and intermittent gunfire. It is unsafe to move about.
On Tuesday, night CNRT reported militia killed two people in the suburb of Maescarinhas. This morning the local people fled to the Balide Church in fear of their lives. The church was surrounded by Aitarak militia.
Also, the CNRT said three people were kidnapped by the militia in Quental Boot. Their whereabouts or safety is unknown, but they are feared dead.
While hundreds of journalists remain on standby for evacuation near the coast, for the East Timorese of Dili there is nowhere to go.
FALINTIL's forces are staying well clear of the capital, hiding out in the hills to avoid any provocation with the militia before the ballot is counted.
Today, the United Nations Head of Mission, Ian Martin said that FALINTIL had surrendered a suspect in the killing of an Aitarak militia member.
Martin read out a statement from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemning last night's violence. "The United Nations will not allow the violence to deteriorate," Mr Annan said in a statement.
However, outside the air-conditioned hotel where this statement was being read, militia gangs were roaming the streats, and the police presence is completely inadequate.
What is needed is not for media to be evacuated, but for a strong international force to be urgently called in to restore law and order. The Indonesian army is either unwilling or unable to restore order on the island.
On Tuesday the United Nations announced that despite a widespread campaign of intimidation, the provisional turnout for Monday's vote was a massive 98.6 per cent.
The provisional turnout was consistently high across all regions. Even towns like Maliana, which had been virtually deserted before the ballot, registered a 97.8 per cent turnout.
"Neither fear nor violence nor intimidation can stop the people expressing their will," said a United Nations spokesman.
A United Nations staff member was killed in Atabe on the day of the poll. He had left the local office when a militia group opened fire with automatic weapons. Mr Gomez was stabbed in the ensuing chaos. He died one or two hours later from a punctured lung.
On Sunday, CNRT leader Ma'Hudu and FALINTIL Commander, Region 3 Riak were arrested by Indonesian police. Hudu was at the KPS Commission (Commission of Peace and Stability) office just about to investigate reports of a missing body. Eurico Guterres, Aitarak militia commander, burst into the office with a pistol and threatened to kill Hudu and Riak.
The police detained Hudu and Riak 'for their own safety' according to a CNRT representative. Guterres was not detained. Two Australian Federal Police, who don't want to be named, witnessed the dispute.
On Monday at midnight, the first boat came in from Denpasar, Bali and Kupang, West Timor. There were wild scenes as a crowd of around 800 people stormed the gangway, rushing to get on board. Bags, boxes and even mattresses were held overhead as the men raced up the gangway. A photographer hung over the edge of the gangway, his flash momentarily lighting the dark faces.
As we walked out of the terminal gunshots rang out. Everybody fell to the ground as police and army ran into the terminal. Up to seven armed militia had entered the so-called 'secure' area, unchecked by police.
One Sunday both FALINTIL and militia agreed that none of their members would openly carry arms. No-one was shot in the scuffle during the shooting, but a journalist was reportedly struck and the militia was allowed to leave the terminal without being stopped.
As we watched, militia with a variety of rifles, and one man carrying a pistol, rushed through the glass doors of the terminal and disappeared into the night. Police watched them. The men were following somebody wielding a knife.
For the people living behind the lines in a strongly pro-independence area, the tight-knit community is getting on with their lives.
On Tuesday we slept in a pro-independence house. It was unsafe to return to the harbour where the hotels are packed with journalists and United Nations staff, so the people here offered us a bed for the night.
Kids ran around the yard, playing games and singing. Neighbours came and went, bringing and seeking news of the latest events. Nine-year-old 'Mary' practiced her English from an Indonesian phrasebook. The foreign syllables catch on her tongue as she slowly says: "P-lease come in".
Her brother, Jose, explains that the family is anxious about the future, but are determined to lose the chance for independence. "Yes, we are worried, but we are also determined. The people have voted and the result must be accepted."
While the families here are obviously concened for their own welfare, they are equally worried about us. They have told us if there is trouble they will take us into the hills to the FALINTIL stronghold.
At night, they asked us to bring out things inside and put out all the lights. We sleep in our clothes, a small bag packed, ready to leave in a hurry. Sleep comes fleetingly in between the sounds of barking dogs, crowing roosters and rounds of gunfire.
What you need to do
´┐Ż Australians should write to the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and urge him to take direct action to restore law and order in East Timor before more people are killed.
´┐Ż Write to the United Nations and call for the Security Council to pass an urgent resolution to bring in peacekeeping forces.
´┐Ż Support the East Timorese community in Australia.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of this family.
Activists: Virtually Here - Eric Lee
From the Kibbutz to cyberspace, Andrew Casey profiles the work of an Internet class warrior.
Interview: Net Benefits
Sean Kidney has been combining business savvy with social justice for more than a decade. He gives us his take on unions and the Net.
International: Dateline Dili
As the United Nations attempts to begin counting the votes from East Timor´┐Żs independence referendum, the capital Dili is rapidly spiralling out of control.
Unions: Secret Herbs and Spices
Read KFC worker Claire Hamilton's speech to last week's Second Wave Rally.
Politics: Loosening Labor´┐Żs Links?
Is Labor under Kim Beazley fundamentally changing its social appeal and turning itself into the Australian equivalent of Bill Clinton´┐Żs Democrats?
Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
Our regular update on papers and articles for union officials and students.
History: Immigration, Racism and the Labour Movement
An upcoming conference asks some hard questions about the politics of immigration.
Satire: Crime Figures Down: NSW Elections Postponed
The release of statistics showing decreasing crime rates has threatened to delay the next NSW election.
Review: Trains of Treasure
A new CD of poems and songs pays tribute to our rich locomotive history.
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/29/b_tradeunion_dili.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005