Sunday, May 28, 2006

Post No. 69: Déjà Vu In Timor Leste...?

These few days, reading & hearing news reports about the escalating violence and conflict in Timor Leste (in fact, the latest news reports said that the conflict in Timor Leste, which started out as a conflict between the government & rebel government troops, is taking on the form of a communal conflict), I felt a subtle sense of déjà vu & a tinge of sadness.

Wasn’t it only about 7 years ago that Timor Leste (then still known as East Timor) went through a horrendous phase of bloodshed, with heads being cut off for display? Wasn’t it only just in these few years that foreign peacekeeping forces, under the banner of the UN, have withdrawn from this young nation? Wasn’t it only recently that there was a series of printed advertisements in the local newspapers promoting tourism in Timor Leste (I still remember the tagline used by the advertisements: “Travelers, not tourists”)?

And now, we are again seeing Timor Leste being involved in another spate of violence & conflict (hopefully, this time round, it does not reach the scale of the bloodshed of 7 years ago). Again, we are seeing countries such as Australia and Malaysia sending in their troops to help to control the conflict. And now, instead of people flying into Timor Leste to visit it (the foreign troops flying in to control the conflict don’t count), we have people fleeing the country (there’s even a RSAF plane parked at the Timor Leste airport for the emergency evacuation of Singaporeans down there).

I find it cruelly ironic that, after having somewhat disappeared from the memories of people around the world & from the radar screens of international news, Timor Leste is again in the spotlight for the same reason it was in the spotlight 7 years ago.

Sometimes I really wonder if there is indeed some truth behind Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. I mean, looking at all the conflicts we humankind have gotten into, I wonder if we are indeed stuck in an eternal recurring cycle of conflict. Is humankind doomed to forever be stuck in one conflict or another? Is everlasting peace really an impossible dream?

Don’t ask me. I don’t have the answers to these questions that I ask.

What follows below is a short story that I wrote back when I was in secondary 2 (in those days, I still had a strong interest in writing short stories) for a school assignment. Coincidentally, this story is about the violence in Timor Leste of 7 years ago.


Looking around him, the man felt sad and angry. The man was a reporter from Singapore, here in Dili, East Timor to report about the ongoing crisis.

The pro-Indonesia militia had yet again burnt down a church, leaving 4 injured and 3 dead. Yesterday, they had just killed another 5 residents of Dili, claiming that the victims were pro-independence.

This had already been going on for months, this civil war between the pro-Indonesia militia and the pro-independence forces. Now, it was made worse by the results of the recent autonomy vote in which over three-quarters of the voted for independence.

Feeling that he couldn’t look at this scene anymore, the reporter got into his jeep and left slowly in despair. He decided to interview some residents on their experiences of this crisis.

One man said: “I had everything before this but the militia had killed my wife and children and burnt down my house. Now, I have nothing!” He broke into tears.

This civil war had started when the Indonesia President decided to let the people of East Timor vote for their own fate: Autonomy or Independence. Immediately, two opposing camps appeared in East Timor: the pro-Indonesia and the pro-independence. The two camps, in order to eliminate each other and ensure their own safety, went around killing innocent people and cutting off their heads for display.

Then, the vote finally came, with everyone feeling optimistic about it and thinking that it would solve all of East Timor’s problems. Instead, it brought about even more chaos, killings, bloodshed and tears. The pro-Indonesia militia condemned the results of the vote, claiming that UN officials who supported the pro-independence forces doctored the results.

On the way back to the UN compound, the reporter saw a group of militiamen crossing the road armed with homemade rifles and parangs. Seeing him, they stopped his vehicle and requested him to take photos of them so as to tell other countries of their fight down here. After taking the photos, the reporter drove off, shaking his head.

Recently, an international peacekeeping force made up of several countries called Interfet arrived in East Timor to stop the fightings, chaos and state of anarchy.

The presence of international forces didn’t stop the militia from killing. Instead, they openly challenged the Interfet by killing an Australian reporter.

Before he came to East Timor, the Singaporean reporter had fears that he would get killed in East Timor. However, out of professional and moral duty, he still came. He had been here for several days, growing more and more disappointed in humanity as each day passed. He had even seen a man being shot by pro-Indonesia militia, right in front of his very eyes. He couldn’t forget the look of fear on the man’s face, the endless flow of blood and the Indonesian soldier standing nearby doing nothing to stop the killing.

Recently, the militia had declared that if the Interfet didn’t stop its “acts of violence” to them, they would start a guerilla war with the Interfet. Thinking about this, how about the many “acts of violence” they had done to the innocent people of East Timor?

The reporter slowly boarded the steps of the plane. It was already his last day in East Timor. He had to return to Singapore. Thinking about all that he saw within the few days in East Timor, he thought: “When will the chaos, killings, fightings, bloodshed and tears stop? Will peace ever come to East Timor?”

He couldn’t think of an answer to his own questions.


Sigh. 7 years on, it seems that the questions asked by my Singaporean reporter character remain unanswered.

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