Violence Continues to Grip East Timor
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Tremors of a different nature have rocked neighboring East Timor in recent weeks. And there was more arson today and more looting in the capital of Dili. The violence continues despite the presence of some 2,000 Australian-led peacekeepers who arrived more than a week ago at the invitation of East Timor's government, a government that cannot maintain order on its own just seven years after the country's bloody break from Indonesia.
NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Dili. Michael, bring us up to date on the violence. Is it getting better or is it getting worse?
MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:
In terms of violence directed at people, it's definitely getting better. The dismissed soldiers who were causing trouble at the beginning of the week, they've now withdrawn outside the city, and so have the various feuding elements of the security forces. But we've still got these freelancers, or maybe not freelancers, out there torching houses. And by the time the Australian peacekeepers got there, the culprits were long gone. And that's pretty much been the M.O. all week here.
And it's disheartening for many residents of the city because they hoped the arrival of these peacekeepers would do the trick, and it hasn't. And I think that explains why there's so many people in these temporary refugee camps of - I think there's upwards of 65,000 people there now. They're just afraid to go home.
HANSEN: What do they say about the comparison to the violence in 1999, after the Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia?
SULLIVAN: Well, it's strange. Almost everyone I spoke with says it's worse and I'll tell you why. Over a thousand people were killed back then and only a couple dozen have been killed so far now. But the memory of what happened then, I think, it's still very fresh. I mean, it was just awful what happened back then. The militias just pretty much burned everything they couldn't take with them. That image is still very vivid in people's minds.
And the second reason is, back then the people here knew who the enemy was. The pro-Jakarta militias were Timorese, yes, but they were easily identifiable. They wore Indonesian colors. They made no efforts to disguise themselves. And this time around, nothing is obvious or simple. There's no telling where the threat is coming from. It could be from anyone or anywhere. And it's taking on this disturbing East versus West flavor so that there's entire neighborhoods here that are just being like ethnically cleansed. I mean, people from the East being forced to leave some neighborhoods and people from the West being forced to leave others.
HANSEN: Any indication this is going to end anytime soon?
SULLIVAN: The people are certainly hoping it will, but they're definitely not betting on it. I mean, many have just lost faith in the government here. They say it hasn't delivered economically since the vote for independence seven years ago and it certainly hasn't delivered in terms of guaranteeing people's safety, not now at least.
And many people here say they don't want the government in charge of security anymore. They think they'll make a hash of it. They want the international presence. They want international police. That's the only way, they say, they'll feel safe for now.
HANSEN: NPR's Michael Sullivan in Dili, East Timor. Michael, thanks a lot.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Liane.
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