May 31, 2006
Four Days in Dili
It is almost a week now after the arrival there of Australian peace-keepers but peace, you'd have to say, still seems a way off. What, earlier this year, started out as basically an industrial dispute between disgruntled soldiers and the East Timorese Government, in April escalated when the armed forces split along both ethnic and political lines. On one side, rebel soldiers from the west of the country called for the resignation of Prime Minister Dr Mari Alkatiri, while on the other, soldiers from the east remained loyal to the government. Then, last Wednesday the police force fractured and pretty soon rival mobs were slogging it out in the streets of Dili. On the scene when the first shots were fired last week was Dateline's David O'Shea. In fact, for a while there, it seemed some of the shots were actually aimed at David.
What follows tonight is what David describes as "four dark, desperate and drama-filled days in Dili." A warning though - his report does contain graphic images of wounded, dying and dead Timorese that some of you could find confronting.
REPORTER: David O’Shea
MAN, SINGS (Translation): I am an innocent man but you burned down my home. I am suffering so much… Really suffering.
East Timor is self destructing. These are the ruins of Tasi Tolo, a suburb in the capital, Dili. What happened here four weeks ago sparked the political crisis that grips East Timor today.
On April 24, nearly 600 former soldiers marched on Dili. All were from the Loromonu people, the ethnic group based in the west of this tiny country. They'd gone on strike at the beginning of March, complaining of discrimination in the army. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri responded by sacking the rebellious soldiers – nearly a third of the armed forces.
SOLDIERS, (Translation): We are ready to die to defend justice, until we get our rights back.
On April 28, groups of Loromonu youths
sympathetic to the former soldiers went on a rampage through Dili. Government forces opened fire, killing five. Many of the rebel soldiers and their supporters then retreated to the suburb of Tasi Tolo. The army sealed off the suburb and shooting was heard throughout the night. The rebel soldiers say that 60 people were killed, but this has yet to be investigated. Claims of a massacre prompted the defection of 25 military police, along with their commander, Alfredo Reinaldo.
Last Tuesday my East Timorese assistant, Jose Belo, and I travelled into the hills just outside of Dili in search of Reinaldo. I'd been tipped off that the rebel commander had come to the outskirts of the capital and might agree to be interviewed.
Until today he'd been holed up 40km to the south, but in a seriously provocative act he moved his heavily armed men to this ridge overlooking Dili.
REPORTER: Some people are going to be surprised or even worried that you're standing just above Dili here. People are saying that you're going to go down and attack parliament. There is lots of speculation.
ALFREDO REINALDO, REBEL COMMANDER: What is my intention to attack parliament?
REPORTER: I don't know.
ALFREDO REINALDO: And also why I go down to attacking Dili? If I want to attacking Dili, I attacking Dili before I left. But who I'm going to attack? I'm mostly here to defend myself from any threat, from anybody who want to harm me, and to protect the others that want to defend justice as I am here. Why I'm here? Because I want to see the justice.
In just a few hours time Alfredo Reinaldo would be labelled public enemy number one by East Timor's Prime Minister. But he told me he hoped the split in the armed forces could be resolved peacefully.
REPORTER: Does this problem have a solution or is it already too late?
ALFREDO REINALDO: It's not too late, never too late for any solution. It's not too late for East Timor to have independence after 24 years. It's only that everything has to be ended at the table, by dialogue.
Part way through our interview, it starts to rain, although it doesn't seem to bother Reinaldo.
ALFREDO REINALDO: They say rain is a civilian, it doesn't wet the military.
REPORTER: It's the camera I'm worried about.
We find some shelter and when we continue Reinaldo delivers an important message for Australia.
ALFREDO REINALDO: The thing is we need the support from the foreign countries, our closest neighbour, like Australia, and region, mostly, and international, from the UN. UN is still have a representative here. Because everybody here is very suspicious with what's going on and what will be end of it, because they have very ugly background, people know how to use the weapons carry weapons, they know how to shoot, how to kill and that's dangerous.
REPORTER: Anything else?
ALFREDO REINALDO: Good luck.
Prophetic words - only a few minutes later Reinaldo and his men are on high alert.
Government soldiers – the FFDTL - have been spotted by Reinaldo's sentries just down the road.
ALFREDO REINALDO: Function your camera. No worries.
REPORTER: Tell me what's happening?
ALFREDO REINALDO: The FFDTL coming after us.
REPORTER: Just now?
ALFREDO REINALDO: Yeah.
REPORTER: Can you see them?
ALFREDO REINALDO: Oh, yes. There.
REPORTER: How many people?
ALFREDO REINALDO, (Translation): There is three men hiding that side. One is still standing. I can see them and I think I'll take a shot.
Go away, this is the Major speaking, go away! If you don’t want bloodshed, go! This is your last warning young men! Think carefully. Let’s not waste our lives, we’ll fight to the bitter end.
This is your last warning, go home! Every one of you, go now! I’ll count to ten and then that is it!
The Australian Defence Force identified Alfredo Reinaldo as a future military leader when he attended training in Canberra. Today he has a group of around 25 heavily armed men with him.
ALFREDO REINALDO, (Translation): They went that way, One got away. Four of them went that way, they went that way.
REPORTER: What was happening there?
ALFREDO REINALDO: They didn't want to withdraw.
REPORTER: You gave them the opportunity and they refused?
ALFREDO REINALDO: I gave them so many times. I gave them to go back, stay as they are so we can talk, we can sit and talk. We not come here to fight against them, we come here to defend the people. And yesterday they come here to shoot. We are not here to fight but they come after us. For what purpose?
REPORTER: How many are there?
ALFREDO REINALDO: We don't know. They are many.
The government later said that the soldiers that Reinaldo fired on were unarmed, but within minutes they are firing back.
ALFREDO REINALDO: Be careful the grenades. They using the grenade launcher.
REPORTER: Should we go?
ALFREDO REINALDO: You're not safe to go. Stay put there. You're not safe to go here. There is ammunition crossing around.
REPORTER: You shot one?
ALFREDO REINALDO: I think so. He is not moving.
REPORTER: Ooh, jeez.
JOSE BELO, ASSISTANT: We have to get out of here.
REPORTER: Where do we go, though, huh?
JOSE BELO: We will be trapped here I think.
ALFREDO REINALDO, (Translation): Your head down, head down.
Are you OK?
REPORTER: Yeah, I am fine. How are you?
ALFREDO REINALDO: I asked them to stop. I hope they can return where they come from. Stop shooting.
With more grenades falling around us it is time to make a dash for safety. Up further? Go up, up, yeah? Oh, no.
REPORTER: Well, this seems like a pretty bad escalation. We are not really sure which way to run at the moment because I don't know my way around here. We shouldn't go with them, no? We are right in the middle of this here. This is bad.
SOLDIER: No worries, mate. It's OK.
REPORTER: Pretty serious, though. Yeah.
I call Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta and a Member of Parliament, Leandro Issac, to ask for help. Both men had told me they'd been negotiating with Reinaldo.
REPORTER:I just spoke to someone in Dili, to Leandro Issac, and he told us to call the Australian Embassy. I don't actually have the number on me. So it's a bit awkward because I don't know if they are chasing us and he said the army don't want the world to know that they are firing on Alfredo because Alfredo was organising a peaceful dialogue with Ramos Horta. And with Leandro Issac and Xanana are supposed to be scheduled in a couple of days. But it doesn't look good at the moment for that to go ahead.
You can see how close we are to Dili - it's just up on the hill behind. All of the civilians I am with here, helping us to get away, showing us the path out of here, plus Alfredo's men, are hoping this is the catalyst that brings Australian peacekeepers into East Timor.
At the moment I'm alright. I'm with three of Alfredo's guys. We're being walked away from it.
There's still sporadic gunfire going on down below. I just had a call from the Australian Embassy in Dili and they have advised us to leave Alfredo's soldiers. They're the ones that have brought us up here but they have said that we should leave them and hook up with some local villagers, go into a local village around here, just sit and wait it out. But the problem is that the local villages around here are all empty because they've all left, scared for their lives.
During our 4-hour walk to safety we're joined by dozens of refugees from nearby villages. They must have thought the days of packing up the rice pot and the bedroll were long gone. A mere six years after finally gaining independence, history seems to be repeating itself. Frightened and uncertain and once again fleeing for their lives.
Some of Reinaldo's troops come up the hill carrying an injured colleague. He later dies back at their base. It's now raining heavily and the path is turning to mud.
MAN: If it's possible, we want... ..we ask to the UN peacekeeping force to come to East Timor to maintain the security because we have no security here.
REPORTER: This is a real escalation of the problem, isn't it, a real... getting worse.
MAN: Yes. Because of the stupid of the leaders.
The leader of the defence force is a very stupid man. And now the situation is very bad in Dili, and we hope that peacekeeping force to come to East Timor as soon as possible to maintain the security. Thank you very much.
After four hours we finally arrive at a small hospital where the Australian Embassy has promised to send a car. While we are waiting the gunfire seems to be getting closer and I feel for the villagers that I am leaving behind. They have no friends in high places to call for help.
Travelling back to Dili, apart from the flooding it all seems quite normal, but not for long. The fighting just a few kilometres away is already spreading, ending any hopes for reconciliation.
The next morning, on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, is called to the President's office. It was later reported that President Xanana Gusmao wanted to invite foreign peacekeepers, and argued with Alkatiri, who was resisting. Later in the day both leaders issue separate orders to the army, adding to the confusion over who is in charge.
It soon becomes clear that significant numbers of police are defecting to the rebels. But United Nations police advisors refuse to discuss the unfolding crisis. General Anis Bajwa is deputy Head of the United Nations Mission here, and he's trying to figure out what's happening.
REPORTER: What do you know now at the moment? What's happening?
GENERAL ANIS BAJWA: I'm just here to find out. We met in the morning. Do tell me, who are you representing?
REPORTER: SBS Television.
GENERAL ANIS BAJWA: Was it you yesterday up in the mountains?
GENERAL ANIS BAJWA: Oh, it was yourself? We need to talk about that. Yeah, yeah, we will. Alright. I'll get somebody to...
This is a particularly difficult time for the UN.
It works closely with both the army and police, who are now engaged in open warfare.
REPORTER: Is Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak still in control of the armed forces?
GENERAL ANIS BAJWA: I am trying to call him. I don't know, he must be. I'm trying to call him. His number is busy. Yeah.
The armed forces chief, General Taur Matan Ruak, explains he is busy leading the operations against Reinaldo.
GENERAL ANIS BAJWA: OK, I will not talk to you now, I will talk to you later in the afternoon some time, OK? Yeah, Bye-bye. OK.
More gunshots. But while the army commander is fighting renegade soldiers, a few kilometres away, his own home is under attack by a different group of rebel police.
REPORTER: Hello? I'm actually in the middle of a... there's a gun battle going on pretty close by. I don't know if you can hear the shots.
They're attacking... I think they're attacking the armed forces' chief's house. We've just arrived, but the shots have been ringing out now for about 20 minutes on the hills behind. I'm just seeing a car speeding down the hill now, there's an ambulance, and apparently one of the ambulances was shot at.
It's not long before government soldiers arrive and move in to defend their commander's home.
PHOTOGRAPHER, (Translation): They are getting closer, it could be the FFDTL and Alfredo’s guys or someone else, but it’s a pity it’s happening in a populated area.
It's 3:00 Wednesday afternoon and with the battle around the army chief's house still raging, the President has invited all the foreign ambassadors to his office. When the Indonesians arrive, I can't help but wonder what they make of the crisis in their former province.
REPORTER: (Translation): From the Indonesian Embassy, so how are things going? It looks as if it’s worse than it was in 1999. But we can hear shooting from the General’s house. Doesn’t that sound serious?
INDONESIAN DELEGATE, (Translation): We can hear it, we can hear the gunshots. But we don’t know what’s going on.
The Australians are next to arrive. Everyone here suspects the purpose of the meeting is to call for foreign peacekeepers. But when the diplomats depart half an hour later, they're not giving anything away.
REPORTER: Is the meeting over, the meeting finished?
DELEGATE: Yeah. Just finished.
REPORTER: Decision been made?
DELEGATE: Yeah, but maybe you should talk to them. OK, thank you.
Australia's Ambassador is no more forthcoming. A few hours later, the decision to invite peacekeepers is finally made public – Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia all agree to send troops.
It's Thursday, two days after the fire fight in the hills, and relations between army and police have now hit an unimaginable low. An amateur cameraman filmed these police officers minutes after they were gunned down by government soldiers. They'd been under siege in police headquarters all morning, and were finally escorted out after the UN took their weapons away and guaranteed their safe passage.
LUCIA FATIMA JIMENEZ, POLICE
OFFICER,(Translation): Yiung men gathered and shouted “Kill them! They are traitors.”
Police Officer Lucia Fatima Jimenez believed the UN could protect her from the soldiers.
LUCIA FATIMA JIMENEZ, (Translation): As we passed they swore at us and started shooting at us.
Those behind us fell to the ground. We were in the middle, we immediately dived under the UN cars, but they still kept shooting at us.
24 hours after the invitation for international help, the appearance of two Australian warships is well received.
MARTIN BREEN, LAWYER: Certainly a sight for sore eyes, that ship, waiting a few days for that after today's gun battles.
REPORTER: What have you been doing today?
MARTIN BREEN: Hiding mostly inside the hotel in my office. We had quite a lot of machine gun fire around the office so this is good, it has calmed everything down so it's really great.
But the soldiers were too late to save the family who lived in this house. A woman and four of her children, aged from 3 to 14, burned to death here as the first soldiers were arriving. The house was targeted in an act of revenge. The woman who lived here was related by marriage to East Timor's Police Minister, Rogerio Lobato.
Lobato comes from the west of the country, where most of the rebels are from. The mob that torched this house are from the east, and were enraged when police defected to the rebels. A deadly cycle of revenge has begun.
TIMORESE WOMAN: You know, for me, it's something that's unbelievable, why we can kill each other in one day, it's so sudden. You know, for me, it's very sad that why we're Timorese we have to fight each other. It's a big responsibility for the leaders, I think. The leaders of this country should reflect themselves, do a big reflection to, you know, why these things happen, that is not easy to govern this country. We should find a good leader to govern this country, otherwise these things will continue.
It is a tragedy that Australian peacekeepers are required once more on the streets of Dili.
Foreign troops may, eventually, be able to re-establish peace. But to reunite East Timor, its leaders need to win back their people's trust and that will prove much harder.
GEORGE NEGUS: David O'Shea in the thick of the escalation in East Timor. As that woman in David's piece of real reality television said, "We should reflect on why these things happen."
Good point! David's back safe and sound and since then, of course, chaos has reigned supreme in Dili. The Australian troops have arrived to try and stem the tide of violence and tonight President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri are still arguing over who controls the armed forces. David, by the way, would like to pay a special tribute to his local Timorese assistant, Jose Bello. In fact, David went so far as to tell me he couldn't have managed without his mate Jose.
REPORTER/CAMERA: David O'Shea
PRODUCER/ADDITIONAL CAMERA: Jose Belo
EDITORS: David Potts, Nick O'Brien, Wayne Love
SUBTITLING: Silvia Lemos, Ricky Onggokusumo
EP: Mike Cary