Thursday, 4 January 2007

Looking back

Some background, I hope.

This is an (edited) copy of an email I sent to various friends in July’ish of 2006

Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty

In March/April around 600 members of our armed forces, which number less than 1800, went on strike claiming discrimination against people from west East Timor in the army and police forces. Now, regardless of the fact that these guys were in fact technically deserters or mutineers they marched on Dili, albeit peacefully, to air their grievances.
Our wonderful Prime Minister in his infinite arrogant wisdom refused to meet with or talk with these people. They handed in a petition to Parliament, after a peaceful weeks demonstrating outside Government House, listing their complaints and are henceforth known as ‘The Petitioners’.
Now, on the 28th April things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Gangs of young lads from the west of East Timor descended on Dili to show their support of ‘The Petitioners’ and set about rampaging through town, burning a few shops, quite a lot of houses and generally getting in a bit of well-earned looting in the process. Note that the houses and shops they burnt were in the main occupied by people from east East Timor. Between 5 and 10 people died in these antics, mainly shot by non-striking police and army. The army, incidentally, were called in by the Prime Minister even though he did not have the constitutional right to do so.
Now, fast-forward to 22nd May and it starts to get really interesting.
Gun battles started in Dili in earnest, with Army and Police from east East Timor fighting their colleagues and countrymen from west East Timor, who were also Army and Police but who had left their posts due to the above mentioned discrimination. On 24th May 10 unarmed police officers, while surrendering under United Nations ‘protection’ were gunned down in the centre of Dili by regular army. This started a huge shit-fight with major weapons being fired in Dili town centre, two Timorese gun-boats (the whole Navy) shelling from off-shore and generally putting a bit of a dampener on any diving we had planned.
On May 25th the Australian army arrived in force. Very heavily armed and fit young men from the ‘lucky country’ were immediately roaming the streets and looking very very tough indeed. This put an almost immediate stop to the gun battles, with the east East Timorese army and police taking to the hills, and the west East Timorese army and police putting themselves under the protection of the Australians. But now a new kind of anarchy found its way to the top of the heap.
Gangs of kids and young unemployed men, of which there are many, decided to settle some old scores, do a bit of neighbourly ethnic-cleansing, a bit of looting and burning and fight old turf wars without the inconvenience of a police force to tone things down a bit.
Imagine the scene: a group of around 40 young men, clad only in shorts and t-shirts, incredibly fit and knowing the back-streets and lanes of Dili, running away from a group of incredibly fit young men, clad in around 100 kilos of equipment, including flak-jackets and helmets and 50cal machine guns. Not many of the t-shirt clad young men were caught by the other young men. And the other fit young men dared not use their 50cal machine guns on a 12 year-old kid who was only throwing stones after all. Although I did witness one of these 12 year-olds hack an old man over the head with a machete just because the old guy was walking on the wrong side of the road. The old guy subsequently died.
This lasted around two and a half to three weeks. Then the people in charge(?) realised that the troops were not what was needed. A regular kick-arse police force was what was needed. So, although a little late, the dreaded GNR (Guardia Nationale Republic) from Portugal arrived and Dili’s streets went quiet again. For those of you unaware of it, the GNR are a group of heavily trained and heavily armed thugs from our beloved former colonial masters whose reputation preceeds them. Anyway, the Dili street thugs knew all about them and quickly went back into the sewers from which they had crawled.
All during this time virtually everybody in the country, and quite a few out of it, were calling for the resignation of our wonderful Prime Minister, Dr. Mari Alkatiri. He, rightfully, refused to resign and tried to carry on governing the country, although no-one was listening to him anyway.
In the meantime, our libidinous Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, was out and about in the streets of Dili and beyond pressing the flesh with ‘his people’ and generally showing them that he was suffering at least as much as they were. Although of course, he didn’t have to queue for rice, water and shelter and had the added bonus of a group of Aussie SAS soldiers guarding him and his house. Oh, and our beloved Nobel laureate also got himself an additional job. Minister of Defence. This puts him in control of our army. Additionally one Dr. Alcino Baris got himself the job of Minister of the Interior, which puts him in control of the police force (when we get one back). He got this job because the old guy, Rogerio Lobato, whilst not the most loved man in the land, had to resign amidst rumours of arming ‘hit squads’ of ex-Falantil (guerrilla fighters) to kill off any of ‘the Petitioners’ they could find, any political opponents of our beloved Prime Minister and anyone else who might not have a good word to say about Dr. Mari. – Dr. Mari of course denies all knowledge of this.
While all this fun was going on the President of the Republic, His Excellency Kay Rala ‘Xanana’ Gusmao contracted a mystery illness for a couple of weeks that left him incapacitated and unable to give his support, or not, to his legally elected Prime Minister, Dr. Mari Alkatiri.
As of now, 21st June, some of ‘the Petitioners’ have been handing in their weapons to Australian army types and some have not. Some have said they will only hand their weapons in to the President, as chief of the armed forces. Also, our former Interior Minister, the above mentioned Rogerio Lobato has been placed under house arrest and our own Nelson Mandela, namely H.E. Kay Rala etc etc has asked for the resignation of our democratically elected, UN overseered Prime Minister Dr. Mari etc. etc.
Indeed we live in interesting times.

First thoughts

This is my first time at 'Blogging' so I'll try not to get into navel gazing and believing that what I have to say is important, although I see I've already started.
This blog will try to be about life in East Timor as I see it on a daily basis, from the political to the ridiculous, although in this place the two are rarely mutually exclusive.
A little background on me (of course) first. As I sit and compose this masterpiece I look out of my office window at the Wetar Strait, which is a part of the Banda Sea which in turn is a part of the Indian and Pacific Ocean region. Sometimes I am lucky enough to sea large whales swimming past, Humpbacks, Tropical Blues, Fin-whales and some I have yet to identify. Also pods of dolphins show themselves. The ocean is about 50metres from my window with a main road inbetween. Some of the things that go past on the road are more interesting, and weird, than the things going past in the ocean.
Just to the left of my view is a small fruit and vegetable stall which also sells such staples as Marlboro's, Tiger beer and the local palm wine, Tuak. The stall is also a bit of a local community hangout with the resident bad boys holding sway, women screaming at their horrible kids through betel-nut stained mouths and taxi drivers checking in with the bad boys every half hour or so. The taxi drivers let the bad boys know what is going on in the rest of Dili, carry weapons and booze and also ferry the boys to where they are needed if there is a decent fight on.
Just offshore there are normally two or three container ships sitting at anchor waiting to come into Dili and offload our much needed supplies of Western consumer goods: potato chips, frozen meat, shoes that fit western feet, car parts, even more vehicles for the UN (United Nations), construction materials, anything made by Sony and of course, a good supply of alcohol.
These ships are very important to us. They are our basic lifeline to a world a lot of us have slightly turned our backs on but to which we are loath to sever all ties with.
Sometimes the ships sit at anchor for days for various reasons; maybe the tides are too low for easy entry to the small harbour, maybe the customs officials have decided to take a few days off or maybe the IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons) are rioting and attacking the wharf again. Life here is never uninteresting. Boring yes, uninteresting no.
I am writing all this rubbish on-line which is probably costing me a fortune so I'll sign off now to gather a few thoughts, observations and opinionated twaddle.