Subject: ABC: The Peacemaker - Transcript 

The Peacemaker - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 9 April , 2007

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE, PRESENTER: Hello, Iím Peter Cosgrove. The program tonight is the story of a young Australian Army officer in East Timor making a big difference. With the East Timorese voting today for only the second time since independence, Michael Stone is rightly receiving acknowledgment and credit for his unique role there. But it runs in the family. As youíll see, heís part of a remarkable father and son double act.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: One thing that I have tried to understand here is the trauma that the Timorese people have gone through in the past, the various massacres that have happened here. The vast majority of people have the same needs that we have, which is their family, their security, their well-being, their ability to sleep peacefully. The outbreak of this crisis in 2006 was a surprise and somewhat of a shock to come so hard and so fast. There were people in police uniforms fighting other people in police uniforms. There were people in military uniforms fighting other people in military uniforms. So, it was quite bewildering. Iím very proud that Australia reacted so fast in response to the dire circumstances the Timorese were facing. The activities I have been doing have been quite diverse. My phone is somewhat of a crisis line. The majority of people in this city have my phone number. I attend community dialogue and help to maintain security. I do the occasional TV appearances.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA, EAST TIMORESE PRIME MINISTER: I donít know whether natural skill, whether heís learnt it in school, but heís very effective in communicating to our people and thatís why the ADF use him to appear on our television, to convey messages to the people and heís been very effective.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO, EAST TIMORESE FIRST LADY: Heís become very much a household face for many Timorese. You know, he features on the front page of many newspapers and TV news broadcasts in the evenings. Seeing him in action makes me feel very proud to be an Australian by birth.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: We were very conscious that he was in a dangerous situation. As a soldier, you know, lots of accidents happen. Timor is just a dangerous place to live. But you know, Iím also confident in the training that heís had and also confident that he had developed a good personal relationship with lots of people over there.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Dad first came here in his chaplain role in 2000. Heís been here every year since, whether it be with the military or the police or over as part of the humanitarian organization.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: It was quite an emotional time going and seeing him. Thereíve been plenty of times when weíve rung him up and heís answered his mobile phone and thereís been machine gun fire in the background. So it was a very, very relieved Gary Stone getting off the airplane to meet his son at a time when Michael was probably at his limit.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: We both have had a shared professional story here as well as a personal story here. You know itís great that we can both support each other. I grew up with the army as did the whole family. Our history in the military goes back about four generations, as long as I know anyway.

LYNNE STONE, MOTHER: His father would come home, and they would wear greens and they would put Army paint on their faces, so this is my indoctrination. So they grew up with Army very much part of their lives, yes. Michael is very blessed because he has Gary and Gary has been through similar traumas in his Army career.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: In 1989 I was tasked to command an Australian peace keeping contingent in the war between Iran and Iraq. That was a watershed time in my life. I was sort of taken captive for a while in the hills north of Iran by some Hezbollah, irregular revolutionary troops. They interrogated me for about four hours and I thought I was going to die. Iíd come as close to death as could be expected and if I had any further opportunity of living I wanted to serve God in a very specific way. So I have been serving as a Minister both in parish and in the Military and in the Police since then.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Iíve deployed to East Timor three times now. It began in 1999. The East Timorese community got the opportunity to vote for independence. The militias and other people werenít happy with the result and responded with extreme violence and an international force was put together led by the Australians through INTERFET. I came over here and worked on the border as a platoon commander straight after graduation. It was quite an experience.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: The Indonesian military and the militias that they controlled basically destroyed East Timor and just unbelievably destroyed it. I canít emphasise, and Iíve been to many battlefields all around the world, the extent of the destruction of East Timor was total. I can clearly remember the parish priest at Atabai asking me, ďGary please donít forget us. Please donít forget us,Ē when I was leaving.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: If youíre doing a mission in a foreign country understanding their culture and being able to communicate is a very primary need as human beings to understand each other and to be able to help them and also create effect. I developed a personal passion to try and understand a little bit more as a person what these people are going through. It was probably more the second deployment in September 2001 where I developed my language skills and I think by the end of that trip I could speak what I would define as coffee table talk; as in, ďHow are you doing? Where are you going?Ē and so forth. No matter where you would go in this country there was an amazing warmth for the Australian soldiers. People would run from their houses out to the fences and wave and they never lost that energy.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: Sixty-thousand Timorese gave their lives in supporting the Australian commandos that were in East Timor. I suppose my disappointment was that when we went to East Timorís assistance in í99, we did an excellent job of restoring sort of security for those people there but unfortunately, we didnít, as a nation, we didnít follow up from that.

LYNNE STONE, MOTHER: When Gary came back from East Timor, the strongest thing in his heart was to let the Australian people know what was going on in East Timor and he had a great response. People, their hearts just opened.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: In one series of masses at the Gap, people gave $70,000 cash. We formed an association called Friends and Partners with East Timor. Itís probably been the most significant thing that Iíve been involved in.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: I requested to go back to East Timor. I felt like I had a calling to go back to the country. I got an extra special trip in 2004. I was very autonomous, providing advice to the East Timorese defence force, specifically to the first battalion.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: To them it was a totally new thing. They'd had no Timorese Defence Force previously. The soldiers that he was working with, quite a number of them had been guerrillas during the war.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Not one of them spoke English. It was a real mind blowing experience, just thinking, wow Iíve certainly got a lot to learn. It really was dive in and swim and so I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and learning during the day, writing notes down and at night time studying more. For me it was just listen and learn the language so I could communicate. Falur Rate Laek was the Commander of the first battalion. I worked intimately with him for nearly a year and a half. Falur, like a lot of the veterans that Iíve worked with, spent 24 years in the hills as part of the resistance against the Indonesian occupation. He led a number of other resistance fighters.

FALUR RATE LAEK, EAST TIMOR DEFENCE (Subtitled): Around the neck were seven bullets, six here and one here. And this is where a grenade exploded and wounded me. I was shot here. Five bullets. Four on the outside, one penetrated.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: It was an amazing experience, being able to help such a great man develop further and seeing his wisdom to accept advice was quite heartening.

JOSE ANTONIO BELO, JOURNALIST: Michael Stone is a person that has access to everybody in East Timor from street children up to the President, from an illiterate person in the rural area back to the Prime Minister's office.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA, EAST TIMORESE PRIME MINISTER: One day I was giving a speech in a town. Major Stone came to say hello to me and, well, I then, impromptu, invited him to give a speech as well. I thought I was going to put him on the spot, to embarrass him with his limited Tetun. I had never seen him speaking in public before. Heís not only a good Tetun speaker but also he knows how to entertain the crowd. And since then I said, "Listen, I am not inviting you to speak again anywhere because you overshadow me, you outdo me, so no more competition with me next time."

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: In 2006 I started working with my boss Grant Sanderson. We were providing to the Timorese Defence Force headquarters in Dili. When violence erupted and the situation rapidly disintegrated.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRANT SANDERSON, COMMANDING OFFICER: He and I were literally standing next to each other when the first shots of the attack on the headquarters rang out.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Our jobs significantly shifted to crisis management.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRANT SANDERSON, COMMANDING OFFICER: I suppose we spent the next four weeks of our lives pretty much in each other's personal space.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Alfredo Renado was the Commander of the military police. His group engaged fire with the Timorese Defence Force. That was the catalyst, that was the trigger that cascaded into various acts of violence in the following days, weeks and months.

JOSE ANTONIO BELO, JOURNALIST: I was with the Dateline camera-man or reporter David OíShea. We were stuck in this fighting among the Alfredo Renado group with the government soldiers and we had to try and find our own way out from that situation.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: I got a call up from the embassy asking me if I could lead a small team to go up into the mountains somewhere behind Dili to pick up a couple of journalists that had been caught up behind the fire. As soon as we got off the vehicles there were guys there standing with machetes and big jackets; most likely with weapons underneath. They said, ďHey, Majure!Ē and I sort of went over and I immediately knew that they were someone that knew me and I felt I had some level of immunity, to walk forward, and that the language and the previous relationships I had were some sort of protective shield. We went on down and there was Jose and David (OíShea) luckily a few hundred meters down the muddy track and we picked them up. They were dripping wet and they were pretty happy to see us. They had been threatened in Tetun that they were going to be killed, particularly because of Jose being there.

JOSE ANTONIO BELO, JOURNALIST: Michael Stone was the one that saved my life because Iím an Easterner inside in that line of the Westerners people, among the people that thought that we are bad, Easterners bad people.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Shortly after in the coming days it was clear that the national police forces were disintegrating, adding further to the instability that had been created.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL GRANT SANDERSON, COMMANDING OFFICER: So the temperature was escalating all the way through. All through that period we were trying to advise the East Timorese Defence Force on how to approach these problems.

FALUR RATE LAEK, EAST TIMOR DEFENCE FORCE (Subtitled): Major Stone, during the crisis helped us strongly. Our soldiers that were wounded and died, their blood never touched our commandersí hands. It touched him. They died in his arms. He suffered with them in the hospital. For me, as their commander, I canít repay him. But I hope that God will hold a space for him in heaven.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: The crisis has been going somewhat all year thereís been tensions and thereís countless people that said if Australia wasnít there when it came, that hundreds or thousands of people would have died. There were times when the Australian army came in for criticism.

ABC News, October 2006: PRESENTER: Two men were shot dead. Within hours word had spread that Australian soldiers had shot one of them.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Certain people tried to use us as a scapegoat. It gained some traction in small parts of the community. However that was quickly erased and reversed through our actions, through our communication.

ABC News, October 2006: PRESENTER: A few nights ago two more men were killed on Diliís beachfront. Again Australian soldiers were blamed. Even the newspapers are reporting it as fact.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: An important role that I had was to get on TV and to communicate our message, to dispel myths, to dispel rumours, to communicate what was happening at the time.

(Excerpt from television interview in Tetun)

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE- from TV interview inTetun (Subtitled): They accuse the Australian forces captured two people last night, took them to the detention centre, beat them to death then dumped them on the beach. I can say right now to you ≠ this information is not true.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO, EAST TIMORESE FIRST LADY: A potentially very explosive, sort of, situation was able to be calmed down. He was able to lend his own skill, his own voice to that process of, you know, putting some, some water on that particular fire.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: I suppose the most concerned that I felt for Michael occurred in the first week of November where there had been numerous burnings of houses, murders almost every day and Michael attended each of these particular incidents.

And I remember clearly him ringing us up and he was tearful and he was emotional, and he was asking for some support and advice of how to continue on, how to get through the next day.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: It doesnít hurt to cry sometimes because after seeing a lot of suffering and sharing the emotions with different families and you know, giving them hope, trying to be the strong person but going back, and thereís a lot of emotion in there and you know, sometimes it can come out.

LYNNE STONE, MOTHER: The first time Iíve heard him in tears. ďIím not making enough of a difference here. Iíve been here so long and itís still going on. People are still hurting each other.Ē And he was really emotionally probably at his lowest and that worried me.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: ... this little kid here, his name is Moses, you can see the scar on his head. His parents were killed and his mother was killed and the militia also chopped him in the head to kill him as well but he survived and got out of there and now he's in this orphanage.

LYNNE STONE, MOTHER: All you can do is remind him that heís only human, he can just what he can to the best of his abilities and if he dies then he dies. Weíre all going to die one day and he will have died doing an incredible, incredible work for God and helping people.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Most of the time I didnít wear a flack jacket and I never carried a gun. I think that had a positive effect on my role and perception and image within the community and it certainly helped with trust.

(Door-stop interview with Major Michael Stone at conflict resolution) MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Currently there's been a conflict between two villages in the area of Kintal Boot and Santa Cruz. And this is actually a good thing, even though there's a bit of heated conversation going on. It's a good example of the small repairing process of this city, for people to trust each other again.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: The spirit of the Timorese people is very strong and they do want peace and they do want unity. I am optimistic that they will find that with time and with help from their friends. Despite the majority of the situation coming good in East Timor, right up to the end of my deployment I was witness to events that were still happening which highlighted the instability. I was coming back from the airport and I must have driven past this dead body which I came back to on the same road. A young girl arrived at the scene in quite a state of hysteria. It was her father that had actually been murdered. And I went in to help her and spoke to her and I just tried to calm her down. You canít help but be affected by the situation and the suffering thatís happening here. But as a soldier you also have the responsibility to be the rock as the foundation in uncertain circumstances. She ended up fainting in my arms actually, which provided me an opportunity to put her in the car and then the police took her away.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE: More than two years, itís an unbelievable length of time to be in a deployed situation so Iíll be very happy that he gets an opportunity to come back to Australia in February of 07.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: The tension in the city was still thick, and the tension between the national defence force and the national police force was still very ripe. So the parade was the first event where everyone came down, from the President down, in the middle of Dili, in front the public and basically offered their hands to each other. The physical sort of side of the crisis had started to lose value.

(Excerpt of interview at peace parade November 2006): MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Today was an absolutely historical event here. For all the leadership of the military to come here, the police, all the government leaders as well as all the youth to come together armed with flowers, I must admit I was very emotionalÖ

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: I think anyone thatís had time in Timor would know that these scars and the roots of the conflict between the leadership go back 30 years. So one parade isnít going to shift that.

(Excerpt of interview at peace parade November 2006): MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Itís good for the people I think that they do have a true hope for once which is so important for them. CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: And I feel proud of my son that heís been contributing to that. MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Just a small part.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, EAST TIMORESE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was disappointed when he told me the other day that he was leaving East Timor. And I mentioned to him that I hope he comes back and I would definitely welcome him to work in my office. Heís very popular. Thatís my only concern but I can swallow that, so he will, if he comes back, yes, he will have no problem in finding, whether Timorese wife or foreign wife, because there are many foreign women who are here who, I heard, you know, also are sympathetic to him.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: I met this girl. Her nameís Meghan, sheís American. She chose to be in East Timor, she studied East Timor a few years back for her studies. And so she knew what the circumstances were and sheís a very empathetic individual and was very accepting and very tolerant of the circumstances and myself as well. But, yeah.

(Brisbane, February 2007) MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: Well Iíve got a great job here in Brisbane for this year, which Iím looking forward to, raising a new infantry battalion. Iím looking forward to spending some time with my family and good friends here and focus on those relationships.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: I think Michael will continue his relationship with East Timor. I mean he, just like myself, I realise that Iím a brother to the people of East Timor. Theyíre my neighbour and itís my obligation and my joy to be a good neighbour to them.

CHAPLAIN GARY STONE, FATHER: And Iíd like to continue to support them and Michael, Iím sure, would want to do the same.

MAJOR MICHAEL STONE: I realize that I do have a calling to help those people. I think what goes in your heart doesnít normally leave so East Timorís in my heart and will always be. I really feel that I will be going back there in the near future to go back and help my friends.

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