Thursday, March 4, 2010

How safe is Timor Leste?

Safety concerns were discussed at length before we left home as this country has been synonymous with violence in the past few decades. While the threat of violence seems capable of erupting at any time, we have yet to feel threatened. In fact every policeman, military, private security, whether local or UN related, has been more than friendly and we often engage in conversations whenever we get a chance. When we passed a check point manned by Pakistani UN security, their waves are a natural response. Common sense is important though as one priest said here the other day, you don’t want to push too hard here as it can quickly bring a harsh result. Yesterday the judge presiding over the case of last year’s assassination attempt on President Rosa Horta released his final decision, with a 19 year sentence for the prime suspect. There are rumors now of a demonstration to protest many of the irregularities in the case and the key questions unanswered. The younger generation has much to be suspicious about as memories are still fresh here. We will see tomorrow whether the demonstration does occur.

We visited a prison in Dili today that used during the Indonesian Occupation. This was where the current Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, was first held as a political prisoner before he was shipped off to Jakarta. Xanana was a rebel guerilla leader during the occupation and spent 17 years living in the mountains leading and organizing the resistance, which gained him a huge following and ultimately led to his capture by the Indonesian military. Even from his jail cell in Jakarta, Xanana continued to be very outspoken for Timor Leste and had such dignitaries as Nelson Mandela visit him and plead for his release. The prison we visited was the place of many cruelties and was recently restored with the aid of the people of Japan to serve as a memorial to those who suffered within. We walked through the many cells and paid our respects to those who never left the grounds. Vivid examples of the pain endured are still etched in the walls and floors. Many photos exist that document some of what went on here and a commission was held to try and record testimonials from people who came forward to recall their memories for the record. These are now available to both the new generations living here and the rest of the world who may not have been aware at the time. This prison is truly a very sad place.

It might be that these memories are still so fresh that the sense of calm here seems to have a bit of an edge to it. After Timor Leste was used by the UN as the poster child of the United Nation’s success in bringing about peace and order in a new country, it only took one incident in 2006 to turn that on its head and for 7 years of work to unravel in a matter of hours and days. Let’s hope the eventual withdrawal of the UN comes with this country more ready and the society more adjusted to their new reality.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Dick! I think you've described the odd state of uncertain peace that we observed in Dili very well.