Yesterday, Tuesday 6th, was a pretty exhausting day. I was up at 03.00 and ready and waiting for 2 colleagues from an Australian news company for a long trip to Same. The guys turned up on time and after a hurried cup of coffee we set off.
Dili was very eerie at that time of morning. A large barricade been put up outside my house consisting of about 40 big rocks, a couple of smouldering tree trunks and various other bits and pieces. We picked up a Timorese ‘fixer’ in town about 0410 and headed to Tiger fuels to stock up on the essentials; water, chocolate bars, peanuts etc. There were two truckloads of Malaysian cops in Tiger, looking very very tired and armed to the teeth. We then drove through Dili, passing over and around various roadblocks to the south and headed up into the hills. The driving was slow due to the darkness and never knowing what was around the next corner. Normally on a drive to Same one would take a fairly direct road from Maubisse to Same but our ‘fixer’ told us this particular road was dangerous and held by ‘renegade’ Freitlin supporters, so we had to take a much longer and much rougher route around the area and come in to Same from the south. About 15kms before we hit Same our ‘fixer’ decided to leave us and travel back to Dili with a friend of his we had met on the road. The roads around Same were virtually deserted with little no traffic.
As in most situations like this, the banter in the car got less and less and the tension and black humour more and more. We didn’t know what we would find when we hit Same. Would the local people be aggressive towards us? Were some of Alfredo’s men, who it has to be remembered, had lost 5 of their colleagues on Sunday morning, be patrolling and angry. Would any Aussie soldiers mistake our vehicle for a ‘hostile’ and open up on us.
As it turns out we needn’t have worried. When we entered Same the mood of the people was subdued but friendly. We got a few ‘Hello misters’, a few timid smiles and quite a lot of indifference. Same itself was very quiet although the market was up and operating. Quite a few ADF were patrolling as well as manning various checkpoints over the town. After their initial surprise at seeing us, after all we were the first journalists in town since the assault on Sunday morning, and not expecting us to come into town from the direction we did, the ‘diggers’ were quite friendly and talkative. As usual with the ADF no-one would talk to us ‘on the record’ but the diggers were all smiles and glad to be told about what was going on in Dili. The poor chaps are a bit cut off up there.
I had a bit of a walk around town and noticed there was not much evidence of the battle that had occurred. Apart from a few burnt-out roadblocks nothing much had changed since I been been up there for a totally unrelated reason two weeks previously. I went into the hotel where I had previously stayed and managed to procure 3 ice-cold beers and the use of the only generator, with fuel, in town. The lovely owner/manageress said that Sunday morning had been very bad for around 2 hours but that they had just kept their heads down and waited for it all to finish. Oh, this hotel is about 1metre from the initial roadblocks into town so they were pretty close to some action.
Around about 1400 (2.00pm) there was a large explosion as the Australian troops were blowing up weapons/ammunition/explosive devices captured in the original action. We had been forewarned of this but the inhabitants had not. Some loud weeping and wailing then ensued from the people but this soon died down. These controlled explosions are normal practice in these situations.
At 1500 (3pm) we decided it was time to head back to Dili as we didn’t want to be driving around in the dark for too long. We left Same on the northern route and thus managed to knock off about 2 hours of driving time. Driving down from the hills into Dili was quite a nightmare as we hit low-lying clouds and visibility was down to about 2metres. We had also been getting SMS messages to stay away from the Taibesse area as shooting had been occurring there. Unfortunately we had no choice as this was the only way in. As it turns out we needn’t have been concerned as we encountered no scrotes, very few roadkblocks and only one stoning. In fact Dili was surprisingly quiet. Eventually got home around 2015 (8.15pm), had a feed and fell into bed absolutely cream-crackered.
So, all in all a day consisting of 12 hours of driving, about 5 hours of work in Same and 30 minutes of stress and tension.
Its now 0700 and I can’t sleep any longer. Today may be interesting as we have the long-running Rogerio Lobato saga hopefully coming to an end at 2pm. I suspect if the verdict is not satisfactory to certain parties (on both sides) it could all go off again.
Oh, and don’t expect to see the level of international media coverage that we have had recently to continue. The earthquake in Sumatra has meant that most of the journo’s in Dili are now trying to get to that beleaguered island. Earthquake pictures are much more ‘sexy’ than the odd 16year-old with a rock in his hand.
I’ll try and post again today if anything happens and with some updates.