Subject: ABC: AM - East Timor violence linked to drugs

Also Drug "ice" said to lie behind East Timor clashes

AM - East Timor violence linked to drugs

[This is the print version of story]

AM - Monday, 30 October , 2006 08:29:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

TONY EASTLEY: There are concerns that a big increase in gang violence in East Timor is being fuelled by the use of "ice", or methamphetamine.

Large gangs have been held responsible for most of the violence in Dili since the first unrest in April and in the past week alone they've been blamed for up to 10 deaths.

The gangs are a constant threat to the Australian-led international forces, which are patrolling the streets of Dili. Authorities in the city have confirmed that the ice is being used by gangs and is being manufactured locally.

From Dili, Anne Barker reports.

(sound of East Timorese dialect)

ANNE BARKER: Like most of Dili's male population, these young men are unemployed, largely uneducated and supremely bored.

Most days they hang out at the refugee camp near Dili's airport, where gang violence last week left two people dead.

Men like these are themselves almost certainly members of a gang or a martial arts group, some of which have 2,000 members.

Australian researcher, James Scambary, who's studied East Timor's gang culture, estimates half of Dili's population is in some form of gang. [see AUSAID: A Survey Of Gangs And Youth Groups In Dili, Timor-Leste, A Report Commissioned By Australia's Agency For International Development]

JAMES SCAMBARY: Given that there's about 300, I would probably say at least half to two thirds by the look of it. I mean the figures on martial arts groups are that 70 per cent of East Timorese men are members of martial arts groups. So we're looking at about 230,000 people out of a population of one million. That's a lot.

ANNE BARKER: Gangs like Setia Hati and Korka are hardly new in Dili. But since the political crisis began six months ago, the gangs have become larger, more violent and their behaviour more disturbing.

Justin Kaliszewski, a local youth worker, says while the reasons for that are complex, one key factor is the recent growth of methamphetamines. Once smuggled from Indonesia, most crystal meth is now made in crude labs in Dili.

JUSTIN KALISZEWASKI: You know one gang in particular is controlling the methamphetamine trade and what you're seeing in the process is that kids are experiencing a drug a) that they have no history, b) that's being made in a way that's quite unclean and unsanitary, and it produces these highs that are so unpredictable and so uncontrollable that a lot of the time kids will do things that they have no intent.

As one example, three kids in Beto, I think two weeks ago, were so high on methamphetamine that they turned around and let their own family houses on fire.

ANNE BARKER: Many of East Timor's gangs have their history in the independence struggle against Indonesia.

And there's evidence that some gangs are loosely modelled on the Indonesian militias that terrorised East Timor in 1999.

And James Scambary believes today's drug use in Dili may go back to the militia groups' own use of amphetamines.

JAMES SCAMBARY: People from interviews with former militia and eyewitness reports said they were certainly not, their behaviour was not that of people who are merely drunk. They were highly agitated, excited and had this behaviour of people who didn't, who just weren't, lost all fear and this is what people are saying about some of the gangs now. They just don't care what happens to them.

TONY EASTLEY: James Scambary, a researcher in Dili, talking to Anne Barker there, our reporter in Dili.


Drug "ice" said to lie behind East Timor clashes

Mon Oct 30, 2006 2:05 AM GMT 21

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Illegal drugs and alcohol given free to youths by opponents of East Timor's government have helped fuel gang violence which killed up to four people, officials and international security forces were quoted as saying on Monday.

Jose Sousa-Santos, an adviser to Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, said much of last week's fighting in the capital Dili was due to the use by youth gangs of locally-made methamphetamine, or "ice," which can trigger uncontrolled rages.

"It's more a pre-battle ritual," he told Australian media. Sousa-Santos said the methamphetamine had only appeared in Dili since fighting broke out between the police and military in May.

Local officials said two people were killed in the clashes last week between youths armed with guns, rocks and bows and arrows. Australia, which is leading a peacekeeping force in the fledgling nation, said the toll might be as high as four.

The commander of Australian peacekeeping forces in East Timor, Brigadier Mal Rerden, separately said alcohol or ice aggravated two days of clashes which shut down Dili's main airport.

"This is unfortunate - they may do things they normally wouldn't do, and that is a dangerous and serious thing," Rerden told Australian newspapers.

Australia led a force of more than 2,500 international soldiers and police into Dili in late May to end instability which eventually forced the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Acting Timor Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva, meanwhile, said he was determined to crackdown on a campaign aimed against Australian peacekeepers, including allegations they were involved in the deaths of two youths last week.

"We will do out best to find out who is behind this campaign that has made people turn suddenly against the Australian force," da Silva told Fairfax newspapers.

The Australians were met with cheers when they arrived in Dili in May and Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta this month turned down an offer of a UN replacement force, opting to keep Australian and New Zealand forces instead.

But security forces now suspect unknown figures of running a clandestine campaign against the Australian presence in hopes of forcing their departure ahead of national elections next year.

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