Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

East Timor: don't worry, the journalists don't know what's going on either

I've lost count now of the blow by blow conflict reports coming out of the New Zealand media that have utterly failed to explain to me why this is happening, and who the people involved even are: this morning the Herald has showed that it too has no idea - it has openly confused one side with the other.

Greg Ansley's story this morning attributed the killing of nine unarmed policemen to the gangs currently roaming the streets:

Volatile men whose readiness to kill was brutally demonstrated in last week's slaughter of nine unarmed policemen are to be feared.

Actually, that's totally wrong. The seige of the police headquarters and killing of the cops was done by the East Timorese Army, which suspected that the police intended to defect to the rebels. This has been reported accurately on Radio New Zealand and widely in the international media.

The attribution of these killings to the anti-government elements was inaccurate and irresponsible but somehow not surprising. Amid all the dramatic reporting of admittedly very dramatic details of East Timor's unrest in both NZ print and television media, I've found it bloody impossible to find out what the hell is actually going on. Are these gangs all defected army troops? If not, why have they formed? Are they a mix of defected army and generic riot-ready young men? Who is directing them? And what is their allegiance if they are chanting, as Ansley reports, 'Xanana! Xanana!' even as Xanana tries to quell the unrest? Will they accede to international and Presidential authority, but just not to the parliament and the army? Is it really the case, as Ansley reports in the most awful emotive terms, that the gang boys "reached in and shook our hands, smiling, weapons of war at their sides and murder in their hearts"? Or were they perhaps welcoming the New Zealand troops because they see themselves as freedom fighters, and thought that the New Zealand troops were coming to protect them again from an oppressive government and army that does things like massacre unarmed policemen?

Come on you goddam on-the-spot journalists, fucking well tell me.

[addendum: sigh with relief - some actual information is available here from the Guardian, a newspaper based in country very very far away from East Timor and which has no troops and probably no journalists on the ground there either.]

(see post below for usual 'Asian' pop-culture stuff)