Dili Unrest #15

Went for a bit of a drive before a beach BBQ lunch and boy, she is quiet out there. There are people around and they seem calm as can be. Most who intend to leave town look as if they have done just that.

I guess we will know tomorrow just how quiet the normal working week will be. One noticeable feature while driving around is the number of vehicles without registration plates. It turns out that most of these vehicles are probably government-owned and “acquired” for private purposes. So we just remove the government plates. Chances of being picked up for driving without plates is pretty low at the moment.

A few more details of the current situation came out this morning on the TV. A lot of this I have known about for a couple of days, but only as one of the possible rumours. There have been so many rumours, it is hard to know what to believe. Anyway, the commander (presumably now ex-commander) of the military police appeared in a long TV interview this morning. His group of about 20 military police have broken away and headed for the hills. I think this confirmed a series of events that (roughly) goes like this :

  • Protesting soldiers headed for the hills when the demonstration turned into a riot and the army was called in to deal with them.
  • There has been constant speculation that this protesting group was going to attack Dili – firstly Thursday, then Friday then Sunday. This seemed to be the main reason for the mass exodus. It still has not happened yet.
  • This original group is believed to be poorly armed, so unlikely to be a major threat unless it resorts to guerilla-type tactics.
  • There have been defections from the army and the police, supporting the protesting soldiers in the hills. These groups are small but armed. They are in the hills but have not physically joined the protesting soldiers.
  • The military police group has gone into the hills against orders and a major aim (for them) was to convince the protesting soldiers not to attempt any attack on Dili, but wait for the outcome of the special commission setup to look into their grievances.
  • The government has been extraordinarily quiet throughout and if they have done anything to allay fears in Dili, it has not worked. President Xanana Gusmao appears to have taken an increasingly important role in presenting a calm demeanour to the public and I believe in negotiating with the protesters. He appears to be the key man. In general, he is trusted and I think he is a good man.

    Meanwhile, the situation at the “refuges” seems to be deteriorating from a public health stand-point. The Don Bosco seminary still has around 9 to 10,000 people camped out there. Although water, food and toilets have been provided, the strain on the system is such that health issues are now becoming evident. The Balide convent has around 5,000 and conditions there are apparently much worse. But the people do not want to leave.