Firstly, I have no first-hand knowledge of events described in the international press as riots in Dili. I just get a few tit-bits from Timorese, other foreigners and from what I have seen myself.
As for what I have seen, I do know that the locals are a bit nervous. They remember a time not so long ago when a group of demonstrators roaming the streets meant death and destruction. So even if the groups doing this now are mostly well-meaning demonstrators with a labour dispute, you can understand the nervousness. No-one wants their house trashed or to visit a relative in hospital.
I have cycled past the government buildings where most of the more formal demonstration action is taking place and the entire area has been barricaded off. The orange cones do not stop the loopy foreigner on his bicycle so I have gone a bit further than any car driver. In the zone, there are a lot of young men in civilian clothes (but a lot wearing army shirts) who one must assume are sacked soldiers.
They pretty much ignored me but did not ignore any other Timorese entering the zone. When I got to the picket line, I chose to withdraw. But in this central area of town, there are a number of military and police types with automatic weapons strapped to their sides so not much has gone wrong here, although I did see signs of window breakage and a trashed street vendor’s wagon.
Most of the violent stuff has been occurring further out in the suburbs mostly to the south and south-east. The Taibesse market area seems to be the current melting point and there have been reports of a shooting and stabbings.
There was a key meeting last night between the President, Prime Minister and some demonstration leaders. Reports indicate that no ground was gained and things are said to be very tense today. There are no mini-buses (microlets) running and it is generally pretty quiet.
The following BBC report tells a bit more about things I don’t directly know :
E Timor troops riot over sacking
One point which it seems to miss is that the violent part of the unrest appears to have little to do with the military labour dispute itself. My understanding is that the main issue is the tensions between Timor-Leste westerners and easterners (monu versus lorosae). The violent bits at this stage, appear to be westerners picking on easterners who now reside in Dili (Dili being on the west of the divide).
If you draw a north-south line through Manatuto (President Xanana Gusmao’s birthplace), you have the border separating these two groups, but I must point out that it is only a minority who go along with this east-west divide.
More trouble is expected this afternoon. And Monday is the Labour Day holiday – a fine day to make a point for a labour dispute.
I can feel another cycle coming on …