Friday, February 23, 2007

East Timor Unrest

Tensions have heightened on the streets of Dili after the shooting death of a youth by an Australian soldier.

Radio reports in the capital say that the civilian was firing metal arrows at Australian troops carrying out an operation at a Dili refugee camp. The troops are part of an international stabilisation force.

The incident reflects an upsurge of street violence around Dili, mainly between members of rival martial arts gangs. In recent days there have been numerous house burnings and gang battles which have left seven UN police officers injured and led to 148 arrests in recent days.

With elections looming the security situation in East Timor is growing worse, according to the United Nations News Service.

The U.N. Security Council has just voted to extend the U.N. mission in East Timor for a year and beef up the international police force ahead of East Timor's Presidential election on April 9, with full parliamentary elections to follow.

The council has extended the mission until Feb. 26, 2008 and authorized an additional 140 police to supplement the current force "particularly during the pre- and post election period." The mission currently has about 1,300 international police.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This is what it looks like staring down the barrel of a gun.

(Pictured: a young pro-Indonesia militiaman weilding a homemade gun, Dili 1999.)

As a Commission of Truth and Friendship convenes in Bali it is once again time to remember what really happened about the time of East Timor's vote for independence in 1999.

The Commission hearings are taking place in a luxury hotel on the holiday isle - surely this must be a surreal setting for witnesses recounting horrific memories of cold-blooded killings at the hands of militia squads organised and armed by the Indonesian military.

And what about the Commission's intent? Does it puzzle those long-suffering East Timorese citizens taking part that the whole idea of the commission is not to seek judicial prosecution, but to set the record straight.

Australia's major daily newspapers are covering the Commission hearings including The Sydney Morning Herald.

The horrific events surrounding East Timor's independece vote are also dealt with in my book Running Amok. In April 1999 I reported on the Liquisa churchyard massacre, and I was in Dili the day that militia squads attached the home of the independence leader, Manuel Carrascalao.