Subject: ABC: DFAT East Timor travel warnings 'over-cautious'

Also: Rumours of more unrest force many to flee Dili


DFAT East Timor travel warnings 'over-cautious'

Passengers at Darwin Airport who arrived from Dili this morning say travel warnings for East Timor are alarming people unnecessarily.

It is more than a week since there were violent protests in Dili, but two days ago Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs increased its travel warning, because of the potential for more civil unrest.

The Northern Territory Government's trade representative for East Timor, Mike Gallagher has been recalled.

He believes the warnings are over-cautious.

"It doesn't instil confidence in the Timor Government and it sends in my opinion quite a bad message," he said.

Michelle Feurlicht has been in East Timor working for AusAid.

She says she was urged to leave the country, but did so reluctantly.

"I didn't feel like it was dangerous the last few days, we're not really a target, it's not anything to do with us," she said.

She says rumours are rife about further violence, and locals in Dili are terrified.

Last Update: Saturday, May 6, 2006. 4:00pm (AEST)

--- ABC

Last Updated 5/05/2006 11:28:27 AM

TIMOR: Rumours of more unrest force many to flee Dili

Rumours of more tension between East Timor's military and the national police have prompted many Dili residents to flee the city. Witnesses say people have started heading for the hills, terrified that violence may break out once again in the capital. East Timorese troops have now handed over security to the police to ease those public fears. The troops had been deployed to help restore security following last Friday's violent unrest that followed several days of protests by nearly 600 sacked soldiers.

Presenter/Interviewer: Maryann Keady Speakers: Gil Gutteres, Radio Television Timor Leste; Charlie Scheiner from the NGO Lao Hamutuk; Joao Goncalves, Social Democratic Party

KEADY: The calm of the last few days has again evaporated, after an army report that some ammunition was stolen from its stockpile.

That hasn't helped fears among the people that a civil conflict is imminent. They have fled to the hills, or again lining outside embassies hoping for refuge.

And while rumours are the currency of East Timor Gil Gutteres, from Radio Television Timor Leste, says Timor's leaders have not helped things.

GUTTERES: For me, I don't believe that big things will happen. For me, this is a result of the politics of big people here. I can understand from the message that they came out in the tv and radio and the media. Our president came out with this message and then our prime minister, tonight our Minister of Interior, Mr Rosario. So they came out with those message. Keeping saying that, don't be panicked, don't be like that. But they never show to these people how to solve the problem. that they're not showing to the people that they are solving the problem.

KEADY: Charlie Scheiner from the NOG Lao Hamutuk agrees. saying Timor's history only adds the rumours and destress.

SCHEINER: We have to see in the context of where people are coming from, that you have a country where pretty much the entire population is suffering from post-dramatic stress syndrome, from having endured horrendous things, either personally or people in their family and not having had the resources, the therapy and the counselling, whatever other resources there are to be able to deal with that.

So it doesn't take much for people to get scared, and for people to be panicked, and when there's not a functioning public information rumour control system and this I think is a mistake the government's made. When they're not using the television and the radio to give information about what's happening. They're putting out lots of appeals for calm and for people to stay home and not panic, but they are not saying in this neighbourhood, this is happening and in that neighbourhood that's happening. So people have no other information than the incorrect rumours that they hear and they get repeated and exaggerated.

KEADY: The Australian press has been singled out for its hysteria and many like Gil Gutteres see internal and external power politics playing a part in this latest unrest.

GUTTERES: Like some elements can be people from the Ruling Party, from his own party, from like the prime minister and also extra elements can be from other political groups.

KEADY: The Opposition on the other hand, blames the government entirely. Jao Goncalves, is from the Social Democratic Party.

GONCALVES: I've noticed that this government has got the habit of blaming everyone else but themselves. I'm quite confident that there is no interest, I mean any foreign interest on this issue at all. The situation I think we have to tell has been more the incompetence, lack of capacity of the government. Those people were sacked without an inquiry, when the law says an inquiry should be held., and if there was a case that the military had to be dismissed and it should refer to the tribunal.

KEADY: Well, elections are still a year away. The campaign has clearly already begun. Fretlin will choose it's secretary-general this month, with candidates already announcing they wiill challenge Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri Marie.

Whatever the story, one thing is clear. The internal political divisions in Timor are not subsiding any time soon.

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