Food in Dili sold at exorbitant rates

Indonesian soldiers seen selling suspected looted goods at highly-inflated prices to needy locals.

INDONESIAN soldiers were making the most of their final days in East Timor’s capital yesterday, with several seen selling suspected looted goods at exorbitant prices to needy East Timorese as markets reopened and a semblance of life returned to the city after weeks of violence.

Hundreds of refugees returned, many coming down from the mountains to look for food to feed their families – only to be confronted by another dilemma: not being able to afford basic staples.

While some dug deep into their pockets and offered every rupiah they had to the soldiers for what was available, others engaged in barter by selling their belongings to buy rice, instant noodles and other goods.

Several soldiers in uniforms and others in T-shirts and headbands gathered in groups to do business at markets in the citycentre.

It was not clear where the soldiers got the goods from. But The Sunday Times understands that one possible source was the Indonesian military’s (TNI) Dili command post where stocks of instant noodles were being siphoned off to sell in the markets.

There was also a suspicion that goods could have been taken from food aid sent by international agencies to feed the thousands still hiding in the mountains. Elements of the TNI had also been accused of hijacking two UN supply trucks heading for outlying areas.

Whatever the source, it was clear that food was being sold to the highest bidder – and those with the right credentials. East Timorese who sided with pro-independence militias were either ignored or sold goods at sky-high prices.

Mr Joseph Consega, 19, who was with his younger brother, decided to sell his father’s watch to another East Timorese to obtain 50,000 rupiahs (S$10) to buy his family rice and several packs of instant noodles to last a week.

“Our only problem is getting food because prices are so high. I told the soldiers I supported integration with Indonesia andI got a good price,” he said.

Refugees supporting the pro-independence Falintil militia temporarily removed their bandanas, which identified them with the group, in order to strike a bargain with the soldiers.

Several other hungry East Timorese resorted to looting. More than 100 of them broke into a coffee warehouse as soldiers stood by.

Dili was generally peaceful yesterday, with the Australian-led peacekeepers concentrating more on the city’s outlying areas, to safeguard aid to the territory’s interior.

Posted in Indonesia