Report from Lidia Fretilin march to Dili

Tuesday 27th June 2006

Lidia went to monitor events at Metinaro where Fretilin are holding a rally. There are at least 7000 well behaved people mainly Loro Sae (eastern) people but with a large contingent from Same and Emera (towns in the west). They were discussing the demonstration to be held later that day or on Wednesday in Dili. They were also waiting for 3000 people to arrive from Los Palos (the furthest east province).

At about 12:00am Secretary General of FRETILIN Mari Alkatiri came to address the people, he was very well recieved.

I left with my party to monitor the ADF at checkpoints on the route back to Dili. The ADF (Austrailian army are leading the international peacekeeping force with Malysia and New Zeeland) were on the whole behaving pleasantly, possibly because of the presence of a westerner.

We then went a bit further down the road and found a pleasant spot to have lunch and waited to see how events would progress. About two hours later we heard that people had left Metinaro to proceed to Dili.

Two of use decided to go back to the checkpoint on a motorbike (car wasn’t working very well). The soldiers recognised us and let us stay to monitor. We could hear singing, chanting and generally enjoying themselves as they walked towards the checkpoint.

It was apparent that they knew they would have to be searched before being let through however one of the ADF soldiers started behaving badly saying “you are not coming through here” and gesturing at them with his gun.

Several people who were stewarding the march came to the front and calmed the situation as people were getting distressed at not getting through. I asked the soldier who was provoking the situation to stop (will try to get his name if he’s there tomorrow).

I was approached by a member of the ADF from New Zealand who asked me what the problem was. I told him the Australian solder was behaving badly and appeared to be trying to provoke a reaction.

He then asked me to assist in explaining to the people what was happening – they were going to search people then let them through. I spoke to my friend as I am not fluent enough in Tetun and asked for assistance. We then walked along the line of people with the stewards saying calma, calma. We were met with good humour by the people in the line who started singing and chanting Alkatiri, Alkatiri. At this point more people started arriving in trucks and on bikes.

The soldiers were totally bewildered, possibly because they have been told Alkatiri has no support and also they didn’t appear to be trained for this sort of situation.

I was again approached by the New Zealand soldier and asked to explain it would take quite a while to check them through. They said they were waiting for more support from Dili.

We understood that Alkatiri was returning from Dili to make sure the situation remained calm. We spoke to the stewards explaining what the ADF had asked us to do. We assisted the stewards in telling them Alkatiri was on his way back to speak to everyone. We met with the same good humour and singing as before.

Myself I was worried that people would push forward when Alkatiri arrived. At this point more ADF arrived with tanks and trucks looking more like an occupying army than peacekeepers.

Alkatiri arrived to a tumultuous welcome, people shouting Fretilin, Fretilin, Alkatiri, Alkatiri. I had to help one woman who was completely overcome with emotion and had fell to the ground.

The troops who were at the front responded with good humour to the crowd one of them saying “this is great”. A few people tried to surge forward to greet Alkatiri but were stopped by the stewards. Alkatiri spoke but couldn’t be heard because of the noise of the crowd. I went to speak to someone at this point, when I returned to the checkpoint the trucks, cars and people were moving backwards. I asked the soldier from New Zealand if the ADF were forcing people back. The gentleman shook this head in total bemusement, he said “no Alkatiri did it by raising his hands and saying move back my friends and the crowds moved back”.They were moved into a clearing further back along the road.

Alkatiri then disappeared into the crowd to be received by another rapturous welcome. We were to far away to hear what he was saying and after watching for a while we returned to the rest of our group and waited to see what would happen.

It was obviously to late to let people through to Dili and we heard that people were going back to Metinaro for the night so we decided to go back to Dili

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