The Gang Report

I was waiting for an acquaintance to email this report to me but tumbleweed found it for me first.  You’ll have to go there, read about it and download it.  It is a 2.9Mbyte PDF and comes in at 44 pages but has lots of pictures so probably has around 25 pages of actual reading.
It is called :

Research: James Scambary
Research Assistants:
Hippolito Da Gama
Joao Barreto
Sept. 15, 2006
I will post the link after I have read it.  Two days holiday for “All Saints Day” coming up Wednesday and Thursday (1 and 2 November).

Dili Gangs 101

I wake this morning to a spray of articles from the OZ press. Apart from obviously concentrating on the anti-OZ sentiments expressed this week, the most noticeable thing for me was that the reporters were all obviously in Dili.

A week ago, the ABC, Australian and Age/SMH were reporting remotely. Now they are all here. I think this is good. (Let me just say that with the slow decline of serious journalism, it would be a bit of a worry if bloggers took over this area of reporting. Its one thing to be reporting a small microcosm that is my world but another to be spending all day digging up the dirt.)

For a while, I have thought that someone needed to explain to me (and everyone else) just how the “gangs” work. This now appears to be a higher priority issue in the reporting. I heard several months back that someone was working on a history of the gangs in Dili (presumably since independence).

I hope it is made public as I believe it will explain a lot of things (to me as well). I noticed one of the press articles mention that up to 70% of all males in Dili are members of a “gang”. My understanding is that the “gangs” are more like “social clubs”, but a couple of “social clubs” have taken to more rough-house behaviour thus morphing into a “gang”.

And “gangs” are into stand-over tactics and some do drugs and probably protection rackets. I am dying to get my hands on this report.

A bad week

So much has happened this week, but I think it has been the most active week for international security forces since week one. Lots of chopper fuel has been burnt and a resumption of embassy security warnings via mobile phone text messages.

I’ll start with a little chip. The week had been going fairly poorly, the worst for some time. Then yesterday (Friday) morning both a UN spokesman and an ADF spokesman suggested only 2 confirmed dead and the airport fighting as just an elevation of normal gang fighting that has gone on in Dili for a long time. And they said the situation was under control. Now if I was sitting there in OZ hearing this, I might think that everything was AOK. (Note I hear it on Radio Australia via “AM”, “The World Today”, “PM” and “Connect Asia” which is locally re-broadcast on FM radio .)

I am pretty sure that by lunchtime yesterday, the death toll was more than 10 for the week.  But I have often asked just who keeps the figures anyway.
Anyway there have been a number of deaths in the area (on Avenida de Portugal) at the Pertamina corner where segments of the Comorro market traders have been operating a mainly fruit and veg market. That corner and stretching down the beach road past the Malaysian embassy and a few ambassadors residences has been very hot for the last 3 days and highly recommended to avoid. This is effectively the northern end of the well-entrenched trouble spot of Fatuhada.

The airport riot was based around the airport “refugee camp”. The approach to the airport is a 500 metre divided road from a large roundabout. The approach is wire fenced on the east side and has the camp running almost full length on the western side. A group up to 400 were involved in the attack. The word is that it was co-ordinated and that some rioters had been paid (by someone) and were fueled up on alcohol (via the cheap local tua) and methamphetamines.

I am actually glad that the ABC’s Anne Barker is back in town to give a more first-hand account of things. All I can do is piece together things from Google News and tie it in with what I see and other people observe. I do know some people who got caught up in the airport thing just because they were due to fly out to Bali. And someone who was badly shaken by accidentally coming across a rock fight on the beach road near the Malaysian embassy.

We occasionally get mail and stuff via a DHL bag and this had been held up in Customs since last Friday (ie 8 days ago now). In order to get the stuff, both DHL and Customs have to be there to do the paper work. Tuesday was a holiday and Customs had decided to take Monday off and make a long weekend. Then the trouble hit and the Customs guys would not go to work at the airport. The DHL guy did not want to go out there in a DHL vehicle but would go if a white face could accompany him in a another vehicle.

So I thought it a good opportunity to both check out the aftermath of the airport riot and check out DHL/Customs procedures. The road from the roundabout (and all around it) to the airport terminal was strewn with many rocks and stones. There was a reasonably large military presence at the terminal and I spoke to a couple of them while waiting for the Customs guy to arrive. Yep, it had been full-on. (I think I will have to write separately on the DHL/Customs experience as I am sure it doesn’t happen like this in many other places.)

But perhaps the most disturbing thing for me is the output from the rumour mill. Not only did OZ embassy SMS advisories warn of possible targeting of OZ interests, but there have been a number of instances supporting the warning. One rumour has it that the OZ military are responsible for some of the killing this week. This is 100% rubbish but when pumped into the rumour machine, it is hard to stop. Life was not meant to be easy.

Some Perspective

Some of the international press reports suggest “Timor in chaos” and similar sentiments.  Apart from a couple of towns in the hills to the south, there is virtually zero trouble outside of Dili itself.  And even then, the trouble is always in pockets.

I had to pick up a few things today from a couple of places in the west of town and it sure was quiet.  There had been a bit more house burning and there were fires burning in a few places.  The Comorro market traders who had moved right next to Comorro Road had vacated today but the Landmark and Leader supermarkets were running as per normal.  The Makikit hardware only had his door open a little but he was open but not much else.  Elsewhere in town in the centre and eastern ends, it appeared to be business as usual by Dili standards.

I even cycled down to the Christo Rei statue at 5pm for a fresh mango juice at “Sol e Mar” then headed back before dusk.  I was wary but not scared in any way.

Of course, ask the helicopter guy who got hit in the face by a rock and was choppered to Darwin for treatment to his eye.  He might not be so mellow about it all.  But the airport area to the west was apparently a real schemozzle yesterday.

I suppose you have 2 choices – you stay at home and heed all security advice or you take your chances and hope you don’t just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And yes, I have the UN police number in my mobile phone.

Not a good day

Well, what can you say ? News reports suggest that at least 2 people were killed in fighting near the airport. The airport is closed. Blackhawk choppers working all night Tuesday night and a lot of Wednesday – always a key indicator of trouble. Roadblocks setup near the Comorro River bridge severely impacting on movement. Attacks and threats on the Ministry of Education building in another part of town (near the UN Obrigado barracks). Continuing tense atmosphere in the vicinity of the national hospital in the east of town.

You try to piece together the details from various sources as all sorts of people hear slightly different takes on what is happening. Maybe 4 were killed. A friend at one of the medical facilities said 3 deaths occured at their workplace. A shot to the head and a couple of arrows. A lot of the day trying to transport the bodies to the main hospital and/or returning the bodies to the families. The families in a heightened state and angry. Guns carried by civilians now reported as being seen in a number of places.

And you know that after this lot, there will be the inevitable attempts to exact revenge.

This report seems to have distilled most of what I have heard from various sources here :

Today in Baucau, the Timorese army (ie F-FDTL) are holding some sort of public meeting to talk about their response to the recent UN report and may well have a response to yesterday’s events. Some of their command were referred to in the UN report. This meeting will be watched with keen interest as so far, they have kept out of the action and out of Dili.

A quiet Sunday

Sundays are usually fairly quiet.  Most shops are closed and if you see large groups, they are usually going to and from church.  The expat supermarkets are always open and I had decided to do a big shop, mainly as I had run out of breakfast cereal but also because the other half was slaving over the cooktop doing something substantial for dinner.

Mid-afternoon I went to Landmark supermarket and noticed the streets extremely quiet if not deserted.  There were a couple of police vehicles with small crowds around them but otherwise nothing.  I thought something must be “going down” (a phrase often used here) when I saw (& heard) the Blackhawk doing quite small circling in an area of Fatuhada only a couple of hundred metres away.

As is quite common, Landmark could not satisfy the full requirements of the shopping list so it was off to Cold Storage at the other end of town.  Still deathly quiet and I thought “this is just what it was like back in May/June”.  Something feels wrong.

And so it was.  Later in the day, Radio Australia reported trouble following the discovery of 2 human torsos in the Comorro market area.  RA reported that 100 foreign police were called in.  Even later in the day, I noticed very slow response when texting on my mobile – 20 minutes before actual delivery of messages.  This was reminiscent of the mobile phone meltdown several months back when everyone was sharing the news on whats going on.

So even though things are generally under control, the tensions in the community are incredibly high and one wonders what can be done to bring it down.  Certainly not  job creation for the major construction works going on in town – landscaping work in the carpark and on the beachfront outside the Palacio do Governo.

Job creation

Yesterday afternoon, I was visiting a colleague at his residence which is a 1 bedroom unit in a bit of a mish-mash of buildings all contained within a walled compound.

There are quite a few walled compounds in Dili but most are just a fence with a gate and one or two guards. Some may have razor wire or equivalent but this one is just normal fences. (Like septic tank cleaning services, razor wire supplies are a booming industry here.) The compound has guards, gardeners and room cleaning staff like a serviced apartment and rents to foreigners.

Anyway, apart from the consequences of the recent UN report, we were actually discussing job creation and how this was perhaps the biggest reason for much of the recent trouble. As we spoke, there was a commotion outside over the fence. The guards and other staff in the compound were running about the place. It was clear there was a rock fight or similar going on – lots of yelling. One of the guards appeared with blood streaming from his head. He had been walking back to work after collecting his pay and was attacked just outside. He was an easterner (lorosae).

Within minutes, the police (ie UN police) arrived and broke it up. I could see the tops of police vehicles passing by over the easily scalable fence. It was all over in 10 minutes.  When I left, I found myself between 2 police road blocks. As I was on the inside, I was asked if I was OK. They told me that they had used tear gas and rubber bullets. There were rocks all over the road and broken glass from the car or cars that unfortunately were passing at the wrong time.

I pondered just what might have happened if I had decided to leave 30 minutes earlier. However, I still remain confident that a non uniform-wearing white face is not a rock target – as long as they can see your face !

UN report released

The “Report of the United Nations Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste” was released on 17 October. I note it is dated 2 October and I think it was initially expected about 8 October but I believe the UN wanted to be prepared for any security backlash.

Although the actual release date always seemed to be a rumour to me, most of the locals seemed to be prepared for it as of Sunday. Shops started closing on Sunday and Monday was very quiet. It seems not much happened and things have almost returned to “normal” (relative to recent times).

I have yet to read the 79 page report which can be downloaded in PDF format (440 kbytes) from the the UN web site at and leave it up to the reader to come to a conclusion.

I still expect a bit of discomfort over the coming weeks, not just for the people who have been named (and their supporters) but also for those disappointed that that some other names did not appear in the report.

And no, there is no suggestion of a foreign-initiated coup, something I have never heard seriously mentioned here. On 16 June, I mentioned some of the possibilities doing the rounds ( and maybe I will have to mark the report card on who came closest to getting it right.

Hotting up

Well, it may be hotting up at times out there in the Dili streets but for me, there’s another form of hotting up.

In my early 20s, I lived in a “group house” for a while and quite a number of very silly things happened during that period. One of them occured with my mate John when the house consisted of me, John and 2 members of the opposite sex. John and I developed a very male thing of competing over who could cook the hottest curry. Yes, I admit that beer was involved and we had a quaint “thing” about notching up the number of beers consumed on the fridge door. (I won and still have the graphical beer consumption chart specifically designed to stir up the female members of the household about our superior drinking performance ! Yeah, I know – it’s a boy thing.)

Anyway, the curry competition was quite competitive and involved both exceeding the last curry in heat and seeing who could last the longest before breaking out into an uncontrollable sweat.

This “training” has stood me in good stead but it is possible that I have met my match. I have a few acquaintances who are exponents of the constant acquisition of hot chili sauces and line their kitchen walls with any number of sauces from all over the world. I think they may also have met their match.

Soon after the destruction of the Taibesse markets, I passed by and felt obliged to buy something from the half dozen vendors (out of a hundred or so) who were valiantly trying to resume some sort of normality out of the mess. I bought some woven baskets for a US dollar and 3 small sachets of chili paste for 10 cents a sachet. Each sachet held about 2 teaspoons of chili paste in a small clear plastic bag tied with string.

I tried some of this chili paste and merely passed a teaspoon over one of these sachets and my scalp levitated from my head. I reckon a teaspoon of this stuff would give half a bottle of tequila a run for its money for sheer effect.

You can buy these 20mm chilis at the markets most of the time and often one can buy chili paste which has been bottled in re-used drink bottles (often small juice bottles). It will take a while to sample all of this sinus clearing material but someone has to do it.

Yep, it sure is a chili lovers delight here.

Some reports to watch

Today, the International Crisis Group (whatever that is) released a report called “Resolving East Timor’s Crisis”. I will get around to reading it a bit more carefully soon but basically it seems to cover a lot of the issues related to the current problems.

The report (36 page PDF document and 860kb in size) is available here at

I am not sure where it fits into the big picture as the UN report on the recent troubles is due before the end of October. This is often talked about around town as it is supposed to name names and provide a starting point for prosecution of people who have done the wrong thing (whatever that is).

Some information on this special commission of inquiry is available at reliefweb

There has been a lot of conjecture about town whether the details of the UN report will cause trouble. At the very least, there will be a lot of squirming but I would assume that all the potentially guilty parties already have a good idea of what to expect. At the same time, I am fairly certain the foreign military and police forces already know the names of those who will be named. So I think there may be a lid on any really bad stuff but one would have to expect some issues coming out of left field somewhere.

I know the day the report is released will be a good day to plan for a nice meal at home and some stiff gin and tonics just to be on the safe side.