Subject: IPS/East Timor: All the Help A New Nation Can Get

Also: ADB to start releasing funds for E.Timor

EAST TIMOR-ASIA: All the Help A New Nation Can Get

By Prangtip Daorueng

BANGKOK, Feb 6 (IPS) - East Timor independence leader Xanana Gusmao's constant message during his South-east Asian tour has been that the world's youngest nation badly needs economic development that eases life for a people tired of conflict.

Indeed, after focusing on and achieving self-determination, East Timor is faced with the tough task of transforming a war-torn, poor island into a growing economy.

With 90 percent of its infrastructure destroyed and continuing attacks by pro-Indonesia militias six months after an Aug 30 ballot that resulted in a vote to break away from Indonesia, East Timor almost has nothing left except its starving population.

Gusmao says there is actually very little to rebuild in this territory of 400,000 people. ''East Timor is not going to be reconstructed, it needs to be built from ground zero,'' Gusmao said at a press conference here last week, in response to a Korean investor who asked about the prospect of Asian investment in East Timor.

Beyond being a political objective, independence and peace also have to be translated into improved standards of living for the East Timorese.

As Gusmao put it: ''Independence also means to guarantee people of East Timor the better quality of life to compensate them from all sacrifice that they have made.''

Xanana Gusmao and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta are now on a three-week Asian tour that includes China, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. The trip, which ends later this week, aims to raise support from Asian countries -- not all of whom were forthcoming in political support during its decades-long effort to be rid of Indonesian control.

The two East Timorese leaders brought the same message to the Philippines, where they met President Joseph Estrada on Saturday. A Filipino general also leads.

Estrada said that while the Philippines could not extent large amounts of aid, he said the country would be happy to have East Timorese study in its schools. ''They acknowledged that the Philippines has a very good educational system and they hope to be able to send East Timor students to study in Philippine schools,'' Press Secretary Rodolfo Reyes said.

The two leaders thanked Manila for its participation in international forces who went into the territory to restore peace. The Philippines sent some 600 soldiers to those forces and a Filipino general now leaders the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET).

The country also shares special links with East Timor, which like the Philippines is mainly Roman Catholic. Several Filipino Church groups and missionaries have also been helping in humanitarian missions in the territory.

As in Thailand, Estrada said Filipino businessmen were looking at investment prospects in fisheries and agriculture.

In Bangkok last week, Ramos-Horta and Gusmao met not just Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, but a group Of Thai businessmen led by one of Thailand's major construction firms CH Karnchang.

Members of the Thai business group expressed their interests in business investments in several areas in East Timor including infrastructure development, public utilities, fisheries and tourism.

The two leaders said the need of foreign investments in East Timor is one of the country's development priorities, but also stressed the types of investments that come with technology transfers and human resource development.

''As you are all aware that we don't have either technical capacity or large capital that can help ourselves,'' Gusmao said. ''We in East Timor are open for foreign investments and we invite investors that want to transfer to East Timor either technology or capital to help us to be able to walk on our own feet in a very short time.''

''We have the best coffee in the world, but we have to start from zero,'' added Ramos-Horta. He cited Singapore as a development model for East Timor, complimenting its efficiency and accountability of Singapore's private sector.

For now, East Timor is busy worrying about its basic needs. ''Everything is a priority in East Timor,'' he said to the press. ''We need qualified human resources, support in agriculture, and we need to start work on education and out a health system in place.''

In their meeting, Chuan suggested that the East Timorese, where farmers make up majority of the population, should try to develop farming practice to increase farm products so that they can rely on themselves in the future.

The Thai government has offered agricultural assistance to East Timor by providing agriculture training under the framework of the King's sustainable economy theory. About 20 tonnes of rice worth 700,000 baht (around 18,716 U.S. dollars) were donated to East Timor as a part of Thai aid.

After meeting with Gusmao and Ramos-Horta, former Thai premier Anand Panyarachun said both confirmed that self-reliance is the type of economic development their country would work on.

If East Timor has been discussing economic assistance and investments with its Asian neighbours, the other outstanding issue is its membership in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), the region's key diplomatic club.

Ramos-Horta said East Timor wishes to actively participate in the ASEAN discussion and problem-solving process. He said that he did not want East Timor to be problematic to the region, but to be involved in regional development.

Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said as a response to Ramos-Horta's statement that he would consult with other ASEAN members about the status of East Timor's participation in ASEAN's annual ministerial meeting in July. ''If the Thai authorities invite us to attend in whatever capacity, we will be most happy to attend,'' said Ramos-Horta.

Thailand and the Philippines' warm reception of East Timor's leaders reflect those countries' more forthcoming support for the territory -- in contrast with other ASEAN members -- especially when armed militias were rampaging through it several months ago.

The subject of Indonesia's human rights violations in East Timor had for decades been a sensitive subject for ASEAN, and members' ties with Indonesia often meant they hardly paid attention to atrocities in East Timor since Jakarta's occupation in 1975. (END/IPS/ap-ip-if/pd-js/js/00)

------ INTERVIEW-ADB to start releasing funds for E.Timor

MANILA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The Asian Development Bank will start releasing funds within the next four weeks to help the battered territory of East Timor rebuild its economy and ease social tensions, a bank official said on Saturday.

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and Xanana Gusmao -- the leaders of East Timor's fight for independence from Indonesia -- arrived in Manila on Friday for a four-day-long visit, during which they are holding talks with ADB officials.

``It was particularly useful. We discussed with them what would be their priorities,'' Cedric Saldanha, manager of the bank's Pacific operations, told Reuters in an interview.

The priorities referred to the use of an initial $5 million technical assistance grant approved by the ADB board in December.

``It (release of the funds) will be within three to four weeks. These are very, very urgent,'' he said.

``We had agreed to focus on four areas. First is...community empowerment, local governance support.

``You must understand right now at the village level in East Timor there is no government. Village councils have to be elected, set up and trained.''

Saldanha also said assistance will also be focused on infrastructure feasibility studies and setting up the management systems for infrastructure.

``Everything has disappeared with all the destruction. So how do you manage the ports? How do you manage the airport?''

The other priorities were technical training for economic management and the setting up of a micro-finance system.

``There is a great need to start employment opportunities...There is no banking system right now,'' Saldanha said.

ADB, WORLD BANK TO MANAGE TRUST FUND

A total $522 million in aid to East Timor was pledged at a donors' conference in December, but funds have yet to flow into the territory, devastated by Indonesian army-backed militias in September after an overwhelming vote for independence from Jakarta's rule.

Sergio Vieria de Mello, the top United Nations official in East Timor, told the Security Council on Thursday that the territory needed quick disbursements because of rampant social unrest.

About 80 percent of the population there was unemployed, food prices were rising fast and gang violence was increasing, he said.

Of the $522 million in aid pledged by donors, Saldanha said the ADB and the World Bank will manage a $140 million trust fund for East Timor.

The ADB will focus on the infrastructure needs of East Timor, while the World Bank will give attention to agriculture, health and educational development.

But the ADB cannot provide regular loans yet to East Timor until it becomes a member of the Manila-based multilateral lending agency.

``East Timor cannot become a member of the ADB until it is a country in its own right which has its own government. That is going to take place three years hence.

``Until that time, both the World Bank and ADB therefore will assist through this donors' trust fund,'' Saldanha said.


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