Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dili Update

Feuding mobs, armed with machetes and other hand weapons, give chase to rivals in Dili today. Photo: Adrees Latif

Rival Timorese gangs and masked gunmen waged war on Dili's streets today just hours after Australian commanders declared the violence was coming to an end and it was safe for families to return home.

Groups of young men set fire to houses and attacked one another as gunfire rang out in at least three clashes.

On a main road linking the city and airport, two gangs of around 30 men fought with machetes and bows and arrows before so-called "westerners" with guns arrived to force rival "easterners" to flee, witnesses said.

The westerners then went on a rampage, burning four homes and smashing their way into a supermarket in a looting spree.

A teenage girl, Rosalina de Sousa, 14, was hospitalised with horrific knife injuries after a communal fight in the Quintal Boot district on the city's western outskirts.

She had four fingers cut off one hand, while her left ear was severed, a nurse said.

Rival gangs are countering efforts by President Gusmao and Ramos Horta to find a political solution to the crisis in East Timor; "Viva Xanana Gusmao! Viva (Jose) Ramos Horta!," they shouted in support of the president and foreign minister. "Mari Alkatiri no good!"

Gusmao and Ramos Horta are reported to be negotiating a ministry reshuffle, but are unable to force out the still stubborn Prime minister, Alkatiri, under the country’s constitution.

Gusmao says he's taking over "sole responsibility" for the country's national security in a bid to end more than a week of swirling unrest.

Jose Ramos Horta, the country's Nobel peace prize-winning Foreign Minister, acknowledged that his government had "failed miserably" to prevent the unrest. He directed the blame toward Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. "In some areas, particularly in political dialogue in embracing everybody, in resolving problems as they arise, well, the government has failed miserably," Ramos Horta said.

Mobs torched houses and ransacked government offices, including that of the attorney-general where they succeeded in breaking into the Serious Crimes Unit.

Files involving all of the most prominent Indonesian defendants in the 1999 massacres that followed the East Timor's bloody vote for independence, including former Gen. Wiranto, were stolen, said Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro.

Obviously Gusmao is attempting to see East Timor come out of this crisis with the country’s constitution still in place. There is no room, without a UN mission in place, to invoke extra-ordinary emergency powers without ceding control even in the short term, to foreign powers.

Although the Australian military is steadily disarming rampaging youth, they are playing a cat and mouse game, chasing down gangs using cell phones to direct their movements away from the military units.

The major problem, at present, seems to be controlling youth gangs. The government has given the Australian military power of arrest and detention for up to 72 hours. With the dismantling of the East Timor military, and more particularly the police, that doesn’t really give much breathing space to force changes in government which might calm the situation down.

For Gusmao and Ramos Horta it is a matter of damned if you do and damned if you don’t as they strive to save their fledgling country from destruction.


An interesting look at the two key players in the East Timor crisis.

On the one side there is Gusmao, 59, former leader of the pro-independence Falantil guerillas who fought the Indonesian army in the mountains of East Timor for 15 years, and now universally loved and admired as the country's first President.

On the other side is Fretilin leader Alkatiri, 56, a wily Marxist who spent 24 years studying and working in political exile in Mozambique before making a triumphant return to East Timor in 1999.

The origins of the dispute between Gusmao and Alkatiri, both of whom were born and reared in Timor, go back a generation to Fretilin's struggle against Jakarta.

In the years immediately after the Indonesian invasion in December 1975, Falantil (the armed wing of Fretilin) was decimated as a fighting force, with its key leaders, including Nicolau Lobato, killed. In March 1981 a youthful Gusmao was promoted to become Falantil's commander-in-chief.

Gusmao set out to challenge Fretilin's orthodox approach to the resistance struggle by opening a dialogue with Indonesian military leaders. He brokered a ceasefire with Indonesian commanders in 1983 in defiance of the views of his three Falantil deputies. The Australian


Anonymous said...

Rival Timorese gangs and masked gunmen waged war on Dili's streets today just hours after Australian commanders declared the violence was coming to an end and it was safe for families to return home.

How Bu$hCo of the Australian commanders. Perhaps we could sail one of the Australia's destroyers (does the Aussie navy have any aircraft carriers?) to the Timorese coase and have a huge banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished". John Howard could give a rousing speech.

Cartledge said...

Now Now froggy, the sardine can fleet is very good at patrolling the coastline and keeping unwanted asylum seekers from landing. Why else would you have a navy?
Actually the 'mission accomplished' sign goes on the australian oil rig in the Timor sea, one of nations proudest moments.
It was klike stealing candy from a baby. Hell! it was stealing candy from a baby!