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The Month Of Living Dangerously
Interview with Phil Doyle
The situation in East Timor has received a lot of coverage in Australia, as someone who was there on the ground, what has been your personal experience of the recent events?
It's really been bigger than in 1999. Because in 1999 we had a feeling of being more secure because the weapons the militias were holding were traditional weapons, but the things that have been happening in 2006 it's real and big weapons [used] that everyone is really scared of. Also because on 25th of May there was killing between two institutions that really have a key responsibility in East Timor, Falantil Forces and Policia National Timor Leste, both army and police. So it made people more panicked and traumatised because the two institutions should guarantee safety and security in East Timor but they've been clashing with each other so it's made people more panicked and it's scarier.
The events that occurred in late May, did that come as a shock to the people of East Timor or had it been brewing for some time?
It's been brewing for some time because they can't control it so the thing became bigger and bigger and bigger. Because the things start as small things then they try not to sort it out, because according to them it is a small problem, so they forget about it, but in the end it became so large they couldn't control it 100%.
Was there a feeling that things would get as bad as they have, or was there hope that there would be a solution.
It wasn't hoped it would become as bad but suddenly it became as bad as expected.
And you're involved with the work of APHEDA in East Timor?
When the crisis happened actually our office was not open because we have no guarantees. I have APHEDA parked in my house and all the people in the community in East Timor think that all NGOs do similar work, so they think all NGOs are doing humanitarian aid. So they came to my house saying 'the NGOs have to do something for us, we have no food. There's a lot of refugees in our [Carmelite] convent', and I said 'OK look, actually APHEDA is not a humanitarian aid [agency], but I will try to link you up with those organisations, those departments that are working in humanitarian aid'. So I went to Labour and Community [Department] because I have a good relationship with them. He offered food to the Carmelite Convent and I also linked up with Oxfam because I know they work in humanitarian aid, so they were providing water to the refugees. Also I have one of the private pharmacies providing assistance. I rang them and they came and gave medical assistance to the refugees in the Carmelite Convent.
Even I'm scared, but I don't want to show to the people that I'm scared because how then are they are they going to rely on [me], so I say to them 'OK, calm down' because I can access to the international [agencies] and link it up with other people. I don't want to show that I am also scared. If I'm scared then the people become more scared and then they will leave Dili, so I want to give mentally to them that things will be sorted out soon.
And is that the case, have things calmed down recently. Is the situation for people on the ground in east Timor improving?
Yes. Because right now, because of things that happened last week, we have all the local NGOs and all the international [organisations] at a NGO forum. At the NGO forum we have an emergency meeting to respond to the crisis, to do something. We have to write a statement. We discussed it together, all the local NGOs and international organisations that are not affiliated to one of the political parties. What we want is; no more violence, people have to be able to get to their houses and people have to live in peace, that's what the NGOs demand right now in East Timor
With your work with APHEDA, how many APHEDA projects have been affected and how have they been affected?
APHEDA programs has been affected because APHEDA is working s a development organisation, not humanitarian, and we have to go through local government department and through local NGOs, and those people working with local organisations have become refugees in other districts so no one can carry out the programs that have been supported since 1999, so everything has stopped totally. The office has been damaged by people so it's impacted on our programs on the ground.
In the broader development aspect for East Timor, since independence, will there be long-term effects from these incidents or is it something that can be overcome?
I think that things will be overcome soon, because our political leadership are trying to sort it out and then everything should be going as normal, because otherwise people are suffering a lot. And it will affect because there is no education at all, so it's already two months with no education for the kids, for those people that have to finish their high school to continue their study outside East Timor, so it will impact on them. That's why our President and some of our political leaders are trying to fix it soon. So hopefully Union Aid Abroad programs will be back as normal.
What message would you send to people about the situation of the development programs in East Timor?
Of course the programs in East Timor still need support from outside because we have a lack of resources in East Timor. If there is no support from outside our people couldn't survive.
Is there is a likelihood that what we have seen over the last few months could reoccur or has it played itself out?
I think it's not played out. Because of the situation of ordinary people who have no income, so it will affect their life. I got the information from the enclave of Oecussi that because they have no income, they have no cash in their hand, so they have been using the barter system. There is nothing there. Everything has to be brought from Dili, so if Dili is in a bad situation how can those things be transported. And that's not just Oecussi but the other twelve districts will have a problem.
Will the priority be on restoring the situation in Dili?
So the effects could be felt in the outlying regions for some time?
Yes, that's right.
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Select East Timor from the drop down menu under 'section C. Once Off donations'.
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