Even more trouble

Anyone interested at all would know by now that President Xanana Gusmao has requested foreign assistance from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia. OZ and NZ have said yes, but I am not sure everyone knows exactly the make-up of this force and what they intend to do. They may be here tomorrow.

I would guess their first task would be to secure the perimeters of Dili and ensure free movement to and from the airport. The airport is at the western edge of Dili and is separated from the troublesome Tasi Tolu area by 2 or 3 kms. The road is blockaded on the Tasi Tolu side of the airport roundabout.

The “rebels” seem to have made it clear that their target is the government and the infrastructure of Dili. I sure hope the water supply works, power stations (two diesel generator plants) and telecomms antennae are well protected tonight.

The Leader supermarket was closed this afternoon. It is about 2kms closer into the centre of Dili but slightly exposed from the south up what is known as Delta road. This is the first time I have heard of it being closed although it had pulled back its 9pm closing time to 7:30 pm and further to 5:30pm this week.

It has rained on and off this afternoon and at 9pm, it is raining quite steadily as it did yesterday. It would be pretty uncomfortable up in the hills and one would imagine disheartening for soldiers on both sides.

I think the formal government media announcement indicated one of the problems likely to be faced by a longer conflict – the fear of a loss of discipline and a need for decisive leadership at many levels in the military and police, when the pressure is on. One should also not forget that in this conflict, there are probably relatives shooting at each other and people who personally know their opponents well.

If the foreign press have not made it clear, the “rebels” do not have access to artillery, planes, copters or the like. The do have modern automatic guns and some grenade launchers but I don’t think they have much more than that. In fact, the loyal government forces probably have little more than that themselves. So there is little likelihood of any longer-range strikes on Dili (ie me) unless the rebels actually do make successful forays into central Dili.

But the “rebels” will have animal cunning and huge experience in handling a long conflict from moving bases in the hills and forests.

I guess the foreign military strategists will study the circumstances that led to the conflict losing control yesterday. Are we dealing with crazy people or did someone make an awful strategic mistake thus crossing a point of no return ?