Anyone interested at all would know by now that President Xanana Gusmao has requested foreign assistance from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia …

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 two or three kms. The road is blockaded on the Tasi Tolu side of the airport roundabout. The “rebels” seem to have made it cvlear that their target is the goernment 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…

If the foreign press have not made it clear, the “rebels” do not have access to artillery, planes, copters or the like. They 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?…

It is really difficult trying to get a handle on what is really going on here and why. The local press seem to have relatively easy access to the rebel groups. So the TV news gets regular feedback from the rebel groups and the government activities. However, I am not sure this represents the definitive view of the entire situation…

The foreign embassies do their bit as they have responsibilities to their citizens, but you tend to only get formal information from them via travel warnings. Other information tends to be passed informally but with an emphasis on only reporting known facts.

A large part of the information flow comes in the form of rumour. The informal network that exists amongst Timorese is astounding. News travels fast, courtesy of mobile phones and texting. I think I have been spared a lot of the more outlandish rumours, but it is rumour that seems to spook the Timorese more than anything else.

After a couple of weeks, rumour has tended to settle a bit. I think many people are so tired of responding to rumour and going through another domestic upheaval when the rumour does not eventuate. I know some are consciously trying not to spread something they heard just in case it spooks someone else and is incorrect.

But it has made it very difficult to know just what is exactly going on. The natural tendency for foreigners I know is to compare notes on what they have seen or heard (usually via staff at their workplace). If a pattern appears, then one tends to go with it…

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12