Historical lunch stop to start adventure

Balibo Travel Blog

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Getting our riot gear from the store at Esplanada before leaving Dili

It’s very strange the way the organisation (and I use that term very, very loosely) doesn’t seem to plan as well as I would have expected.  Being a member of the Operations “Family” since the middle of July, I am well aware this up-coming operation for the Sucu (village) elections has been discussed for months, by “the family”.  I am astounded that on the Friday before we (179 HQ and Dili staff)were due to deploy from the capital city to the districts we still had not received any instructions about when or where we were to be going.


I brought the issue up at the regular Friday morning Ops family meet.  I put it to the chief of Ops that I needed to know and I had staff who were concerned about what was happening.

Coast near Batu Gade but we didn't stop
  Everyone needed to prepare and nothing was coming from his office to quell the growing rumours.


I couldn’t believe it when his eyes widened after the Deputy Commissioner of Operations agreed with me, telling him to spread the operation plan to his gathered chiefs.  It was almost as if there wasn’t one!


That was Friday morning.  On Saturday morning I telephoned the Deputy Chief of Operations to ask why I hadn’t received anything yet.  His answer was that the Chief was still typing it for distribution tomorrow.


Sunday came, and went.  This time when I rang no-one answered the phone.  On Monday I decided to try a different approach.  I knew we of National Traffic Unit were going to Bobonaro District.  I e-mailed the District Commander and asked him for a copy of his District operation order.  I then set to work booking some accommodation in Maliana (the main city in Bobonaro, even though I was not sure if we would be staying there.

Election posters get stuck anywhere
  The ops order came from the DC at 11.45am and I was delighted to get it.  It was clear and concise and answered all our concerns about our work and travel plans.  The best thing about it was that although the message was personally addressed to me, it was copied to all 31 other UNPols going to the district.  Smart thinking!


After lunch an email came out from Chief of Staff saying there would be a briefing for everyone at 1600hrs at the Police HQ.  We assembled at the appropriate time and were briefed on our duties, you don’t get more last minute than that! 


Next morning I had arranged with HU what time I wanted him to collect me.  He and I were partners and were driving our own vehicle.  As I went up to the Esplanada Restaurant for breakfast I had a call from the Chief of Ops requiring me to write a report on the past 3 months’ activities in National Traffic.  The report had to be in by 10am for the mission head (the SRSG) to take back to New York and report on the organisation’s progress.

Curious locals eye up Hu's biscuits
  I guess I had 2 hours –plenty of time!


Hu collected me and all my gear at 8am and at 9.45am I had the report completed and emailed to the Chief.  We jumped in our car and headed to Bobonaro for our adventure.


I had never been West out of Dili, any further than the firing range where we were first required to pass our firearms test.  This time I was heading West out along the coast as far as Batugade, just a few hundred meters from the border with Indonesia.


As we headed out I found I wasn’t feeling too well.  I had a head cold.  A runny nose and a bit of a headache wasn’t allowing me to enjoy the drive as much as I’d hoped.  It was still beautiful scenery and every town and village we drove through I felt I should stop and ask someone if they would sell me a piece of it to build a little house on. 


The only real problem was Hu’s driving.

The tragedy of the Balibo 5 hails from this town. Signs of the violence still remain.
  As a driving instructor I am used to being a “back-seat driver” but I think after I’d told him to slow down several times and we’d got into an argument about the speed limit, Hu decided he didn’t want to be my student any longer and we changed places.  I was now driving and he was enjoying the scenery.


I wanted to stop at the border post at Batugade for a photo opportunity but Hu was still a little sulky.  He’d been there before and wanted to get to Maliana to check the accommodation.  I decided we would stop on the way back when all the drama of the elections was over and we could enjoy the journey. 


We stopped at Balibo for lunch.  This place is famous for two reasons, firstly it was the site of the murder of the Balibo 5 in 1999 as the Indonesians withdrew from Timor Leste, burning and shooting as they went.  Secondly because a movie about the incident has just been released.  The incident is all very topical 10 years on.


If you want to know the story of the Balibo 5 and the Indonesian withdrawl then this movie is well worth seeing.

Still colour around the burnt-out buildings
  There are several books about what Timor Leste went through during the 1975-1999 occupation but the murder of the 5 international journalists (Australian and NZ) is probably the one that’s most well publicised.


The small village of Balibo is pretty typical of any Timorese village I’ve passed through.  One thing I have noticed in the Bobonaro district (which lies on the Western border with Indonesia, is that there seems to be far more burnt out buildings.  I guess there would have been higher numbers of Indonesian invaders this close to home so more damage was inflicted.

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Getting our riot gear from the sto…
Getting our riot gear from the st…
Lim tries on his kevlar lid
Lim tries on his kevlar lid
Coast near Batu Gade but we didnt…
Coast near Batu Gade but we didn'…
Election posters get stuck anywhere
Election posters get stuck anywhere
Curious locals eye up Hus biscuits
Curious locals eye up Hu's biscuits
The tragedy of the Balibo 5 hails …
The tragedy of the Balibo 5 hails…
Still colour around the burnt-out …
Still colour around the burnt-out…
photo by: goezi