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could only stand by helplessly as shops and houses throughout the
city were torched and citizens left to their fates. The situation
was becoming more and more critical and the military wasn't doing
anything to protect us. It looked like we were running out of fuel,
which meant we wouldn't be able to pump water. Phone lines were
cut. There was no electricity. A group of U.N. personnel tried to
get to a warehouse at the port to retrieve supplies but was stopped
by 15 or 20 militia who surrounded their vehicles, shouting and
waving their guns menacingly. One militiaman walked up to a member
of the group, pointed his gun at his face and told him how easily
he could kill him. He held the gun there and began to squeeze the
trigger. At the last moment he raised the gun and shot it into the
air. As this scene unfolded, the TNI stood by and did nothing.
U.N. personnel returned to the compound almost empty-handed, but
with a clear message for the rest of us: We were in great danger,
not only from the militia, but also from the Indonesian army forces
that were ostensibly protecting us. That was a message we received
many times in the final days of our time in Dili. At one point a
group of militia approached an area next to the compound and began
to attack the people who had taken refuge there. Once again, the
TNI simply stood by and watched. It was left to unarmed U.N. civilians
to go out and shepherd the refugees through a small gate into the
most days, we could hear the militia and the TNI firing their weapons.
And we could see the rounds of tracer fire as they streaked overhead.
With each day the sense of crisis grew, and on Sept. 8 a decision
was made to evacuate international staff, effectively leaving the
East Timorese refugees to their fate.
were stunned. There was no doubt in our minds that the refugees
would be killed if we left. Three of us, who had been working most
closely with the community leaders in the compound, were given the
unpleasant task of informing them of the decision. This was unquestionably
the worst moment of the whole ordeal. The physical danger we faced
doesn't begin to compare. Sitting on our wooden chairs in that drab
office, surrounded by friends whom we were about to betray, we could
scarcely find the strength to speak. And as we spoke we wept. We
tried somehow to make it sound like it made sense. We explained
that the situation was becoming too dangerous, that it wasn't safe
for anyone to be in the compound, and that our presence was, in
fact, making the people inside a target.