Yesterday’s lead article “Life on the ground in East Timor, by a Dili
resident” was useful, but also underscored the unpredictable nature of
the situation on the ground here. Tuesday morning I wouldn’t have
predicted the renewed violence in Dili, until I was forced off the road
by several truckloads of armed soldiers speeding to Becora in Dili’s
east at noon.
Wednesday morning, I didn’t imagine the amount of gunfire that would
erupt that afternoon, sounding too close for my liking. By this morning
(Thursday), Timorese were awaiting the arrival later in the day
of international police and military forces, but we were all still
totally unprepared for the battle that broke out in the national police
compound later in the morning, that saw me and my colleagues confined
indoors in the adjacent UN compound (opposite the President’s Office),
then moved to the UN mission side of the barracks (some UN offices
being very close to the gunfire).
By the afternoon, we realised that the UN leadership had also been
quite unprepared for such events. A little over an hour ago we
left a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General,
accompanied by UN security coordinators, Foreign Minister Ramos-Horta
and the US Ambassador (who’d just happened to arrive for discussions).
I’ve just walked past three body bags – of Timorese police killed by Timorese
soldiers. UN support is so scant since last May’s cutbacks that
it’s necessary to get to the National Hospital (in Becora) for
treatment (there are lots of wounded Timorese and several UN), which is
now largely dependent upon Cuban doctors.
We’re waiting to give blood, and to find out if we’re spending the
night in the compound or if we’re able to go home tonight or, even, if the
security level will be raised by the UN so that most international UN
staff and dependents have to evacuate.
Hopefully not, as it’s so important to stand with the Timorese
colleagues, whose despair about the shattering of their peace is deep
and will be long-lasting. They’ve been confined to the barracks
all day with little chance to know what’s happened to their homes and
families, which they may not get to see until tomorrow. The
glimmer of optimism is of Xanana taking control of leadership from the
It’s now after 6pm and
dark, and there’s still some gunfire to be heard. And for good measure,
to coincide with the first Australian and Malaysian troops flying in,
there’s been a belated
return to torrential rain.