You’re an Australian peacekeeper in East Timor. It’s 100 degrees out. Any clothes at all are too many, and here you are wearing a 25-pound armor vest. Why not go without?
I’ll give you one reason: sharpened rebar arrows. That’s right, improvised projectiles made of steels rods that are meant for use in construction. In East Timor, the local riffraff fashion bows out of heavy-duty rubber bands and shoot these rebar arrows with enough force to punch through your skull. A couple weeks back, thugs from rival political parties squared off in front of the Australian embassy in Dili. One side had a gun. The other had these bows and arrows. The gunman wound up with a length of rebar in his head.
Dili’s pretty safe most of the time. But during this present election cycle, it’s been wise not to go out at night. There are $2-a-day thugs, many of them recruited by the political parties from the city’s refugee camps, roaming the streets, looking for something, anything, to kill. They even shoot pet dogs. The friendly mutt at my hostel took an arrow during a previous period of unrest.
There aren’t a lot of guns in East Timor. So tight is the market that when some of the local security forces rebelled last year, they raided government outposts to steal weapons. That kind of thing is never necessary in, say, Iraq, where every family has an AK-47 and buried munitions stockpiles are still being uncovered.
Not all of those Timorese cops got away with it, by the way. On April 28 last year, a rebellious police squad was gunned down in the broad daylight in the middle of Dili by the Timorese army (see photo). Tension or even outright violence between uniformed representatives of the same government does smack of Iraq and is representative of much of the Third World. In many countries, the biggest danger is from armed and underpaid cops and soldiers with too much authority and terrible leadership.