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  Issue No 38 Official Organ of LaborNet 05 November 1999  





Dili's Union Presence

By Heather Paterson - International Federation of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists' Safety Office for the Media in East Timor (SOMET) is conducting an investigation into the recent killings of two journalists in East Timor.

Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes, 30, who was the Jakarta correspondent for the London Financial Times was shot on September 21, only hours after arriving in East Timor. The following day, Indonesian journalist and documentary maker Agus Muliawan, 26, was among a group of nine church workers who were killed on the road between Los Palos and Bacau, east of Dili.

The murders highlight the dangers journalists in East Timor are facing. The region became infamous in 1975, when six Australian-based journalists working there were killed after Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony. In an effort to make sure history did not repeat itself the IFJ's safety fund sponsored the development and establishment of SOMET.

But SOMET was forced to close the doors of its Dili office on Sunday, September 5 when the militias in East Timor went berserk, the day after it was announced that almost 80 per cent of the East Timorese people voted against autonomy within Indonesia.

On that Sunday, more than 150 journalists from the major remaining media organisations, such as Reuters, APTN, EBU, AFP and CNN, chartered flights out of Dili. My SOMET colleague, Indonesian journalist Ezki Suyanto, was evacuated on a plane chartered by APTN and EBU. About 30 others stayed behind in the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET).

Journalists have been returning to East Timor since UN-backed international forces (Interfet) landed on the island on September 20.

The deaths of journalists so soon after Interfet's arrival emphasised the need for SOMET to reestablish itself in Dili.

A witness to the attack on Sander Thoenes says the journalist was killed by Indonesian soldiers. Driver Florindo da Conceicao Araujo, told reporters he had taken Thoenes from the Hotel Turismo to the suburb of Becora, a known militia hotspot, about 4.30pm on September 21.

"Two hundred metres away on three motorcycles there were six guys in TNI (army) uniform with automatic guns," he told AAP.

"They motioned me to stop. I tried to turn (the bike) around. Then there were bullets all around us. There were 10 to 20 shots."

Araujo sped off, leaving Thoenes lying on the ground. He did not know if the journalist was dead or alive at that point.

Australian soldiers recovered the body the following morning.

Journalists returning to Dili with the Australian Defence Force have had the protection of Interfet, but independent journalists, who have returned on UN flights out of Darwin or by charters from Jakarta, have been on their own. These journalists had to take their own food and water into Dili. The IFJ has received reports of many falling ill after drinking water which has been treated only with purification tablets. There are no shops open and most of the commercial area has been torched.

Indonesian journalists, who have returned to East Timor, have been staying with the military at the Korem headquarters. However, some Indonesian journalists have reported they were being forced to sign a document relieving the military of any responsibility for their safety.

SOMET, financed by donations to the IFJ safety fund, first opened its doors to the media in July, when Ezki Suyanto from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and I arrived in East Timor. Domingos dos Santos was employed locally. He spoke English, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and Tetum, and used his extensive contact network to inform journalists of the security situation in East Timor and to advise them on how to protect themselves.

The SOMET office, at the New Resende Inn, is across the road from the main government complex, and at the half way point between the Turismo Hotel (formerly the home to many Australian journalists) and the Mahkota Hotel (which was booked out by big media organisations like Reuters, APTN and EBU). The hotel restaurant was also the usual morning coffee meeting place for many journalists.

The SOMET office is still standing but it has been ransacked and there is no sign of any equipment.

SOMET was a raging success in East Timor. By the time the metal shutter was pulled down over the front door 246 journalists from 21 nations had registered. The biggest contingents came from Indonesia (81 journalists), Australia (43), Britain (20), Portugal (15) and East Timor (15). Other big groups came from Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands and the USA. Many of those who signed up were freelance journalists who had no big organisation to back them up, so they depended on the information coming out of the SOMET office.

SOMET was contacted a number of times by the official Indonesian task force for a list of all journalists in East Timor. It was our policy not to reveal any information about journalists, and we did not keep any documentation about the media in the office. Most was faxed or emailed to the IFJ. Similar requests from the police and military were also refused.

The first project completed, the Media Guide to East Timor, was posted on the IFJ website. It contained logistical information, health advice and information about what was and wasn't available in East Timor. This guide will be updated when the project is relaunched in Dili.

The main role of the office was to be a centre for safety and security information. This was achieved by developing a network of contacts throughout East Timor. We spoke regularly to the security office at UNAMET, people at the Australian Consulate, Civpol officers, UN political analysts and military officers, observer groups, leaders of the pro-autonomy and pro-independence camps, and journalists who had travelled outside Dili. We also had an open channel of communication with the Indonesian police and military.

For their own safety, journalists registered their intent to travel outside of Dili and gave the office details of when they expected to leave and be back. Depending on the region and the security information about any given day, the staff at SOMET would give the journalists a couple of hours after their expected time of arrival back in Dili to call in. More and more people did this as tension increased just before and after the August 30 referendum.

The media remained the enemy of pro-autonomy militias throughout the campaign. When riots broke out, the militias often chanted "kill Australian journalists". There were only four groups of journalists in East Timor according to the militia: Portuguese, Japanese, Indonesian and the rest were Australian. One Norwegian journalist had to produce his passport to convince militias he was not Australian. Only then did they let him go. A Japanese journalist had a similar experience at a road block near Liquica.

Journalists documented the collusion between the police, military and militia. Many reported accounts where they witnessed police handing militia weapons and some identified soldiers out of their uniforms taking part in militia rallies and attacks. This was a major problem as the police maintained they were responsible for security under the May 5 Agreement, signed by Indonesia, Portugal and the UN. Journalists were advised by the UN to use police posts as safe havens when trouble broke out, especially outside of Dili.

But two journalists were refused police protection while in a town in the Viqueque region of East Timor. Sean Steele and Minka Nijhuis were shot at, and had to hide in a river to escape the militia. When Nijhuis approached the joint police and military post to ask for help she was scared off and took shelter with locals. SBS cameraman David O'Shea was refused a police escort to Dili's open market the day after a riot. The police commander, who had just arrived from Bali, told O'Shea he was too afraid to go near the market.

Indonesian journalists were walking on a double-edged knife. Not only were the authorities and militias harassing them, the pro-independence camp was also threatening them. CNRT leaders told SOMET the Indonesian media was seen as part of the regime which had suppressed the Timorese for 24 years. SOMET met with CNRT leader Leandro Issacs in an attempt to remedy the situation. He was sympathetic to the journalists' plight and said he would take action against his members found to be hindering or harassing journalists.

A few days before the referendum, the Indonesian military started to offer Indonesian journalists seats on military planes, which would be in Dili on the days immediately after the vote. They advised all journalists to leave East Timor. Most Indonesian journalists took up the offer and returned to Jakarta. Many East Timorese journalists are now in hiding there, have no income and are unsure about their futures.

Reports of intimidation and violence against the media were sporadic in the lead-up to the referendum campaigning period. SOMET documented 57 incidents against journalists in two months, but believe there were many others.

Heather Paterson has been one of the IFJ's media safety officers based in Dili. She is returning to Dili with Indonesian journalist Ging Ginanjar to re-establish the IFJ media safety service. To date the service has been funded through donations to the IFJ's Journalist Safety Fund. You can make your donation by A/C 611-0122022-66, Credit Lyonnais Belgium, Ave Marnix 17, 1000 Brussels, Belgium


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 38 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Peter Reith
We�ve fought him for the last four years, perhaps it�s time to try to understand him.
*  Education: The Boston Strangler
If the teachers' salaries "offer" had been any good, John Aquilina, the Minister for Good News Only, would have made the announcement and been seen to promote it.
*  Economics: Key Indicators
A new ILO publication provides real cross national comparisons which show that Australian workplaces rate very well on productivity, wages and non wage measures
*  Unions: Dili's Union Presence
The International Federation of Journalists� Safety Office for the Media in East Timor (SOMET) is conducting an investigation into the recent killings of two journalists in East Timor.
*  History: Maritime Dispute Records
A Joint ACTU � ASSLH project will identify and preserve as many records as possible arising from the 1997-98 Maritime Dispute.
*  International: Western Mining into Guns and Gold
An Australian mining company, Western Mining Company Limited (WMCL), has effectively won the support of the Philippines army in its battle with traditional owners in Southern Mindano.
*  Satire: Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene
Gay scientists today released a study which, they claim, at last identifies the �Christian Gene".
*  Labour Review: What's New in the Information Centre
View the latest issue of Labour Review, our resource for students, delegates and officials.

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»  Referendum? No Dam(n) Choice!
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