Subject: AFP: Vigil in the countryside to defend scarred East Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Vigil in the countryside to defend scarred East Timor

LAWAN, East Timor, Nov 5 (AFP) - Two platoons of men stand rigidly at attention. An officer wearing tattered trousers and a woollen hat shouts a command and the men shoulder their wooden rifles, looking dead straight ahead.

Most of them wear rubber sandals, some are barefoot. But the men practicing their drill in this remote mountain village take their duty of security very, very seriously.

"They are here to keep order," says a man named Alberto, who was watching from the edge of a dirt volleyball court that is their parade ground.

He says they are called "Baby Falintil" because they do not yet have a commander in the Falantil resistance which fought for independence from Indonesia. But these 72 men from Lawan and two neighbouring villages are determined to protect their country's new-found independence.

Asked who they are defending their nation against, a young man in the front rank wearing a Chicago Bulls cap, simply said: "TNI" (Indonesia's military).

Perched high in the mountains some 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level, Lawan has neither electricity nor running water. But it is one of the few places in East Timor that does not bear the scars of the violence which engulfed the territory following the August 30 vote for independence.

At one edge of the town an Australian army tank is parked overlooking a breathtaking panoramna of terraced mountains and a single road cutting the route to Maliana at the border with Indonesian West Timor.

But the eight-hour journey from the capital of Dili to Maliana is a constant parade of heart-wrenching devastation for people whose lives have always been a difficult struggle.

In some areas the only structures left standing are their churches, which are often built on the highest ground.

Relief work has been effective, but only to an extent. The town hall of Lawan has about 20 sacks each containing 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of rice from Vietnam and the Falintil are ensuring its equitable distribution.

Soldiers from the 2nd Royal Australian Regiment, part of the multi-national peacekeeping force deployed here to stem the post-ballot violence, say that in nearby Atsabe, another mountain town, the coffee crop will survive. But the essential planting of rice before the monsoon rains, which have already begun, never happened.

At one point along the route the ground is littered with the bright yellow packets which contained food air-dropped before the roads were opened on which were written the words: "This is a humanitarian gift from America."

But while international aid agencies have ensured the immediate food needs of these people are being met, they are desperately in need of building materials, especially tin roofing and nails.

The road, already washed out in places, will need a lot of heavy work to keep it open during the wet.

On the approach to Maliana, refugees can be seen carting bundles on their heads, on their shoulders or under their arms. But the town itself is still a long way from assuming any normal rhythm of life.

Buildings are gutted, thatch roofed houses have only a few poles standing, the carcasses of burned-out automobiles litter the streets, and the mood of the people is uncharacteristically depressed, in sharp contrast to the normal cheerful resilience of the East Timorese.

As night falls in Maliana, the UN office is virtually the only building with electric light, run off a generator, in what was once a thriving town of 15,000 people.


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