Subject: SMH: Report from Waimori, E Timor: Discipline, dog and diarrhoea

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, October 2, 1999

Discipline, dog and diarrhoea

After years of hardship the Falintil guerillas are going home. JOANNA JOLLY reports from Waimori, East Timor.

The man in the Winnie the Pooh T-shirt with a gun orders us to wait at the hilltop. His commander is angry with a group of fellow fighters who have turned up in a stolen TNI truck.

"We did not know what to expect when we saw the truck," he says, even though the fighters have stuck a piece of paper on the windscreen bearing the words "Falintil commander".

This is the first checkpoint on the way to the cantonment camp of Waimori in the central mountains of East Timor.

Here, 30 kilometres up a dry river bed in a mountain gorge, Falintil fighters are waiting for orders to give up their 24-year resistance war and return to the destroyed towns and cities of East Timor.

But chief Falintil commander Taur Matan Ruak says his men will not leave the mountain until safety is assured.

"As long as the TNI [Indonesian Army] are still in East Timor, Falintil will remain in the mountains. We have not set a date to leave our cantonment," he says.

Since July, the 1,500-strong East Timorese guerilla force has been confined to four cantonment areas in the mountains of East Timor as part of a disarmament agreement made with the United Nations and pro-Indonesian militias.

The militias reneged on the agreement almost immediately. Staged shows of weapons surrender preceded brutal militia attacks. But Falintil troops have kept their promise, honouring orders by exiled leader Xanana Gusmao. Since July, they say, they have fought only in self-defence.

Commander Falur Rate Laek says: "It makes me feel mad. I feel so sick and sad, but I must obey my commander." The frustration felt by many fighters extends to Interfet, which they believe has been too cautious in securing the territory.

But frustration is kept in check. Discipline has remained the trademark of this guerilla army which has resisted Indonesia since its 1975 invasion.

There is little to do in this camp of dusty earth and bamboo huts with roofs made from palm fronds, but the fighters wait patiently.

Routines are constructed around military training and work. Men build and repair huts, women cook and clean.

Sophisticated technology, satellite dishes and television sets transported to the camp in a six-hour trek up the river bed mean Falintil is not completely cut off from the rest of the world.

But life is not easy. Until a specialised team of Australian soldiers arrived last week to set up a clinic, there were only out-of-date drugs and traditional medicines to treat the many cases of malaria, dysentery and diarrhoea among the refugees.

Food is a problem. At the end of Timor's long dry season, the denuded earth cannot support any crops. Two months ago fighters were forced to eat dogs. Now they dine on charred monkey flesh and buffalo intestines, served with small portions of rice.

American ration packs have been dropped, stamped "A Gift from the People of the United States". But refugees have become sick with diarrhoea because they are unaccustomed to preservatives in the ready-made meals of rice and beans, peanut butter and strawberry jam.

Commander Adrianono da Camero explains how he gives "morality lessons" to homesick fighters.

"I must tell them about politics and discipline. I give them advice about the aims of our struggle. Dead or alive, we are for independence".

As TNI began withdrawing from the area around the camp, Falintil fighters left the safety of Waimori to rescue locals before they were forcibly removed to West Timor by the TNI. In the nearby village of Laleia, Indonesian policemen surrendered their weapons to Falintil without a fight. Further west in the town of Manatuto, the situation was more dangerous as fighters came under heavy shelling from departing TNI soldiers.

By the time they reached the town the buildings had been destroyed and the population gone. Only a group of 16 militia hiding from the TNI was left. Now they are held in a bamboo hut guarded by seven armed men.

Falintil commanders say they are keeping the men for interrogation before handing them to Interfet. They want an international court of justice to try men like these and Indonesian police and soldiers responsible for the killing, looting and destruction.

Commander Taur Matan Ruak says: "We must bring the TNI to court. The militia can stay in East Timor if they want to. We know who has committed crime and we want this to be investigated."


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