From the east


I don’t speak Portuguese or Tetum so sometimes I can’t quite figure out what is going on, but these are my observations.

Thursday 29 June – a group of protesters from the east arrived in town. Some were pro-Alkatiri supporters.

They had been held up aprox 15 kilometers out of town for a couple of days while security arrangements had been made to avoid a confrontation between east and west in Dili.

east_056 There is a longstanding feud between these two groups that often leads to bloodshed.

There are other political struggles for power going on that I do not have a clear understanding of but this is what I saw.

Many temporary and permanent buildings in town have been destroyed over the last month.

east_043.jpgA lot of them had been vacated by people who had left for safety reasons to a refugee camp or to their family’s homes in the hills. Many of the easterners had been burned out and run out of town.

Some are squatters camps but many are permanent dwellings. It is really a hard time for these people.

The group coming in today was searched for weapons and closely guarded to avoid violent confrontations.

east_050.jpgAnti Alkatir crowds greeted them with chants on “F*** Alkatiri, F*** Alkatiri!”. Some arrivals chanted “Alkatiri” but some yelled “Viva Timor Leste!”. That could be interpreted as a call for unity which really is what is needed.

There were said to be some people handing them flowers as a token of peace when they arrived.

There were reported to be at least 80 vehicles with protesters and many motorcyclists.

east_053.jpgMany of the trucks were not full and the people seemed to lack the enthusiasm of the westerners but you had to admire their bravery coming into hostile territory.

I left for a different area before they all came through so didn’t get a count. I had a unique vantage point perched in a tree just at the entrance to the city.

There were Portuguese GNR mixed in to help keep the peace.

east_052.jpgThese guys do have a certain style about the way they do things.

They usually do not wear helmets which is good because it might mess up their hair.

All in all it went off without too much trouble and I didn’t see any rock throwing or fighting but did ride past 2 houses that were burning.

They both appeared to have been abandoned.

east_008.jpgA few houses along the way had Filipino flags tacked on them, presumably to avoid getting burned down.

Helicopters were flying back and forth most of the day. There was very tight control over the crowds.

The military did not want any momentum to build for a full scale riot to develop. There was real potential for a disaster to happen.

The protesters assembled in the middle of town after driving a pre-planned parade route under heavy guard.

copy_of_east_061The Australian troops had all the east – west traffic cut off for security reasons.

I wasn’t able to get back to my place on the other side of town so I took up residence at the Venture Hotel bar and settled in with a beer and a burger with fries.

Henry came in with some video he shot of a few guys getting arrested at the end of the street. A few places were up in flames but things calmed down early and the road blocks were lifted around 8pm.

soldiers A pile of tires that had been soaked in diesel fuel had not even been set afire, which was surprising given the Timorese penchant for burning things.

The whole thing was very well planned and there was little violence to speak of.

Some of the easterners are camped out in the middle of town under guard for the night.

It will be really good when things calm down and the rebuilding begins. Things simply can’t continue like this.


Jun 29, 2006

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