Impoverished East Timor Enjoys a Calmer Day East Timor got a slight respite from the violence that erupted just more than a week ago. With foreign troops bolstering domestic security efforts, the gangs that had been roaming the streets of the capital for days were largely absent. East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao, toured the capital, urging people to return home.
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Impoverished East Timor Enjoys a Calmer Day

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Impoverished East Timor Enjoys a Calmer Day

Impoverished East Timor Enjoys a Calmer Day

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today East Timor got a little break from the violence that began there just over a week ago. It is the worst to hit the country since it voted for independence from Indonesia seven years ago. The gangs that roamed the streets of the capital for days were largely absent, and the country's president toured the city today urging people to return to their homes and to work together to put an end to the unrest.

NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Dili.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: The Australian-led peacekeeping force was out in force again today, both on the ground and in the air.

Black hawk helicopters whirled above the city while heavily armed Australian soldiers patrolled some of the neighborhoods targeted by roving gangs in the past few days. Those gangs have terrorized a capital already reeling from last week's clashes between disgruntled former soldiers and government security forces.

The relentless violence has traumatized a town that saw more than it's share during the 1999 Indonesian withdrawal and it has prompted many residents to seek safety in temporary camps protected by foreign peacekeepers.

Keryn Clark is program director for the aid agency OXFAM Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTERS)

KERYN CLARK: There's 65,000, we estimate, in Dili, central Dili, not the district. We don't know the numbers outside of Dili. I think at this stage until people really see a solution, we're still going to have significant numbers in the camps. People will continue to stay over night in the camps and they go home urging the day, but they'll come back to the camps at night.

(SOUNDBITE OF REFUGEE CAMP)

SULLIVAN: One of those temporary camps is here, near the city center. Several hundred people crammed into a small park, an Australian naval vessel tied up at the pier across the street. Several dozen children play on the park's jungle gym and slide, seemingly oblivious to their predicament. Their parents and neighbors sit nearby, some preparing meals over open fires.

Others keep small transistor radios to their ears listening for news that may tell them when it's safe to return home. Fifty-six-year-old Jose Suarez came here on Sunday with his three brothers and their families. All of them, about 20 people huddled under a single sheet of plastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRANSISTOR RADIO)

JOSE SUAREZ: (Speaking foreign language)

SULLIVAN: It's a lot safer being here, he says. We left when the gangs started coming and our neighborhood became too dangerous.

Suarez said he and his brothers all voted for independence in 1999 eager to be free after 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

SUAREZ: (Speaking foreign language)

SULLIVAN: I thought, we thought, it would be better, he says, that independence would be better, that the economy would improve, that there would be more jobs. Instead, he says, gesturing angrily, instead we get this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRE BURNING)

SULLIVAN: Not a half mile away, a stark reminder that this is far from over, an explanation of why so many have chosen to flee. A single story house burning fiercely in the tropical sun, torched minutes earlier, though no one will say by whom. A neighbor says the owners packed up and left a week ago. An Australian foot patrol shows up to investigate, their weapons at the ready, but the culprits are long gone.

One of the soldiers, Private Kyle Chick(ph), says things have been better today over all.

KYLE CHICK: A bit of smashing and banging but nothing too out of control. It hasn't been too bad today in this area anyway. I think because a couple of patrols have gone out last night and today, a couple of patrols have been walking around this area, maybe it's pushing them elsewhere-- sort of calming down a bit.

SULLIVAN: Behind him is another burnt out building, a police station torched by the Indonesian military when it withdrew from East Timor seven years ago. More than a thousand people died during East Timor's bloody break from Indonesia. Back then, people here say, the enemy and the goal were clear. Not so anymore.

Thirty-nine-year-old Ramon Perera's(ph) house is two doors down from the one he's watching burn.

RAMON PERERA: (Speaking foreign language)

SULLIVAN: We don't know who's doing this, he says, frustrated, but we do know the politicians could fix it if they wanted to. So far that hasn't happened and Perera and his family, like so many others here, will be spending the night in a camp.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Dili.

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