Dili Unrest #8

It has been much quieter today and something closer to normality (for a Sunday) seemed to return after lunch. Micro-buses and taxis returned to the roads in limited numbers.

Again, there is no problem moving around. The police/military roadblocks to the west of town were removed this afternoon.

The semi-official position for most of the day was that it was OK to move around but to avoid the Comorro market and Tasi Tolu areas on the western side of town. I have heard nothing with respect to problems on the eastern side since that area had trouble on Friday night.

I could add little today until we took another drive in the afternoon. We drove to have a look at the Don Bosco Technical School which is south of the airport and roughly in between the Comorro and Tasi Tolu areas. The school is a boarding school run by the Salesian Brothers and is a rambling campus of buildings. It is hard to estimate the number of people seeking refuge there, but I will have a go and say definitely more than 2,000. Someone else thought more than 5,000 and even up to 10,000. It is hard to tell and made even harder as some people go out for the day but return to stay at night.

One of the brothers thought the numbers were roughly similar to the previous night but the general demeanour was much happier than the night before when gunfire could probably be heard. Most came with no food or water but the World Food Program, the government and some of the embassies have taken immediate steps to assist in this regard.

Some of the churches around town have also a number of locals taking refuge and a figure of over 1,000 was quoted by the foreign media for the main cathedral.

Further out, we saw around 20 destroyed houses at Tasi Tolu and evidence of a number of burnt-out tyre barriers on the road. The heavy smoke reported was most likely from the burning tyres. The official reports have said 100 houses were destroyed. Given we did not leave the main road, I will go along with that.

There is no doubt there are 4 main factors which contributed to the current situation :

(1) public protests by sacked soldiers who had been seeking better conditions in a primarily labour dispute
(2) the high number of unemployed and disenchanted youth who saw an opportunity to have a bit of a rumble
(3) another group opposed to the government who saw the opportunity to piggyback on the protests
(4) the opportunity by others to get stuck into the east-west ethnic issue and settle some scores

Its a bit of a mixed bag with different groups laying blame in slightly different directions.

One of the things that has made the reporting so variable is the extent of rumours.

At the moment, it is said that the protesters have headed for the hills and that the military were given orders to chase them. Others say this is not the case. But I am prepared to go with the view that most of the violence was not caused by the sacked soldiers but by disaffected youth and others with an east-west ethnic chip on the shoulder.

As for casualties, I only know of the 2 dead and 21 injured from 2 nights ago. Some say more than 10 by now but others say this is not true. It is hard to know really.

The mainstream press have been a bit slow getting onto this but Eric Campbell from Australia’s ABC seems to have got pretty close to the mark in a short space of time. I expect that he will get access to more accurate info than me, but so he should – he gets paid to do it. I am but an inquisitive observer.