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.