Two weeks ago may have been a bad one but as quickly as it came, it disappeared. There is no doubt that there was an orchestrated campaign to stir things up and turn people against the OZ military then it just seemed like the OZ military switched on the PR machine.
For the last 2 weeks, the ADF’s Major Stone has been appearing on Timor Television immediately after the evening news. He is an accomplished (and entirely self-taught) Tetun speaker and has a “boy next door” face. I think the people have responded to a bit of common-sense. It also explains why I have seen this military guy schmoozing in coffee shops and restaurants for several months. It makes sense – shoot the breeze and find out what’s happening out in the streets, where the rumour mill gets fed.
A Portuguese military officer follows Major Stone on TV with (presumably) similar “calming” words in Portuguese.
Having just said all that, it doesn’t mean absolutely everything is fine and dandy. For instance, on Thursday evening, there was a stoush at the IDP camp located between the Hotel Timor and the port. The story goes that some camp dwellers attacked workers at the port demanding jobs. The story also has it that the GNR (Portuguese military police) came in and slapped the port workers (perhaps picking on the wrong side) thus inciting the families of port workers to come in and get angry. Time will tell if there is any retribution for this one.
Mr. Alkatiri left for Portugal for medical treatment and the PM, Jose Ramos Horta delivered his “100 day speech” which you can find at :
http://www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2006/gov-tls-08nov.pdf (The Timor-Leste government web site has not been updated since January.)
I noticed the resumption of soccer games on the dirt pitch on the foreshore near the Palacio. I haven’t seen them for months. Rather than a specific sign of tension relief, I was told there is apparently some structured sporting activities that occur at this time of year arranged by some of the villages. So the soccer was linked to the tug-of-war and beach volleyball stuff setup on the foreshore across from the World Bank building.
You don’t tend to see many military on the streets anymore. I certainly do not miss the unmistakable clatter of the APCs. The choppers still regularly do laps of town. And yes, you do tend to see more UN police than ever around now. Its hard to see how you can get away with much now. And cycling without a helmet – I was told it will still be quite a few months before they consider pinging me. Yippee.
On choppers, you get used to the familiar sound then a new one appears. It took a few days to sink in that a different chopper was in the skies – a Kiowa. Smaller and obviously cheaper to run than a Blackhawk, it would seem more suitable to the predominantly observation role these days.
[For chopper-heads : Kiowa made by Bell, 2 crew, up to 6 passengers, 2000 lb load capacity. Blackhawk made by Sikorsky, 3 crew plus 2 gunners, 11 passengers, 9000 lb load capacity. Courtesy of quick internet search. Configurations may vary.]
For the last 2 weeks, the humidity has increased and we have the return of the fogged up sunglasses/cameras after leaving air-conditioned buildings. There have been heavy clouds in the afternoon on a few days, indicating the imminent arrival of the first of the wet season deluges. Some predict the first rain will be by 15 November while others think it will hang on for another month.
There is a heavier push to move IDPs (refugees) out of the camps before the wet season hits hard. And the mosquitos come back from holidays in force.