Subject: KY: E. Timorese get a taste of Western food by rummaging through trash

Kyodo News Service E. Timorese get a taste of Western food by rummaging through trash Dario Agnote

TIBAR, East Timor, Jan. 24 Kyodo

With a pack of Australian-made apricot jam and some bread she picked up from a heap of thrash, Margarita Pereira, a skinny 8-year-old, and her eight siblings hurry back home.

For the first time, Pereira said she and her brothers and sisters will be able to taste the dark-colored sandwich spread.

'I don't know exactly what this is, but I think it's delicious,' she said in Tetun, the language commonly used in this tiny territory of about 800,000 people.

The Pereira's are among the 100 or so East Timorese who troop daily to a dumpsite to rummage through a huge garbage heap where the U.N. peacekeeping force dump its trash, an Australian peacekeeper told Kyodo News.

'At least 40 to 50 children clamber onto the (U.N. garbage) truck. It's really dangerous,' the soldier said.

The Pereira's grass hut is a stone's throw away from the dumpsite in the Liquica district village, about 8 kilometers west of East Timor's seaside capital Dili.

Anita Quintaon, a 30-year-old mother, said she comes to the dumpsite to scavenge anything -- jam, Reader's Digest magazines, empty soda cans, empty plastic water bottles, paper plates and even wilted vegetables.

'At least we get to eat delicious food,' she said, proudly brandishing five packs of raspberry and apricot jam she had just collected.

It appears the U.N. peacekeepers are providing some East Timorese not only hope for a new life, but also a chance to taste expensive Western food, although unintentionally.

While the territory's public markets have resumed normal operations, selling rice, fish, meat, vegetables and canned goods, food supplies remain a problem for many unemployed East Timorese.

A kilogram of fish, for instance, used to cost only 1,750 Indonesian rupiah before the September turmoil, residents say. Now, it costs about 3,500 rupiah.

Before a kilogram of rice cost 1,800 to 2,000 rupiah, now it costs 3,000 to 3,500 rupiah.

Many residents cannot afford the higher prices of basic commodities. 'People have no money to buy food,' said Chief Inspector Noli Romana, a Filipino civilian police assigned to Baucau, East Timor's second largest city.

Romana said farm produce was also severely affected by the long drought that hit East Timor last year.

'There is also a need to greatly improve the backward farming methods that most of the people here still do,' he said.

Dili streets still bear the scars of destruction caused by pro-Indonesian militiamen and soldiers who went on a rampage after East Timorese overwhelmingly voted Aug. 30 last year to become independent of Indonesia.

But East Timor is slowly showing signs of pulling out of its violent past.

Independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta expressed optimism the food problem now besetting the territory will soon be solved.

'In another month or two, a lot of public-sector offices and shops will be reopened...economic activity (will again) take place,' Ramos-Horta said.

Farmers will start harvesting corn in March, he said. 'So a lot of the food problem will be alleviated.'

Xanana Gusmao, president of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance, said in an interview humanitarian agencies are indeed encountering problems in distributing food supplies, especially to remote villages.

Relief agency officials said security problems in some areas are hampering the distribution of food supplies to far-flung villages. Assistance programs have also been paralyzed due to poor access, they said.

'But we are trying to get help from other agencies or solidarity groups to help us close the holes that exist in this distribution,' Gusmao said.

'We are asking countries for more emergency (assistance), to help us by sending (farm) tools so the people can start producing more and more and more,' he said.

Gusmao added the East Timorese badly need more tractors and more seeds. 'Our strategy is to allow our people to stand on their own feet in the food issue in the year 2001.'


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