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Curfew, East Timor

Dili in lockdown

By John Wilson - Professional International Photojournalist

The photo above was made in Dili, capital of Timor-Leste while I was on assignment for Time magazine. At the height of the civil unrest, the government ordered nighttime curfews to keep people off the streets. This was the photo I made to illustrate the empty streets in the city. It's the main road into the city from the west and is usually bustling with motorbikes, trucks, cars and roadside stalls. I made the photo with a Nikon D2x and Nikon 200mm f2 telephoto lens. 

The East Timorese government was forced to initiate night time curfews to stop street fights among gangs and the burning of government buildings. The unrest had grown from a dispute in the military and police a year earlier based on ethnic issues in employment in the services. The dispute quickly escalated into a deadly and bloody battle amongst the services and fighting raged around the capital Dili, finally ending with a group of rebel soldiers and police formed a loosely regimented group and took refuge in the mountains. 

As time went on the rebels gained much support within the East Timorese community and with little progress to address their grievances the tension in communities continued to grow. Street fighting and vandalism between ethnic groups and gangs continued to build in Dili with the eventual deployment of UN peacekeepers to Dili and other towns.

Map of East Timor with the main road network

UN patrol East Timor

United Nations peacekeepers patrol a street in the town of Baucau during civil unrest in East Timor

Dili street

Building burns in Dili as civil unrest increases throughout the city.

Peacekeepers patrol Dili

UN peacekeepers patrol on a street in the capital, Dili, littered with stones and debris from a night of fighting among opposing groups and gangs.