Subject: TIME: Under Clearing Skies

Time Magazine International EAST TIMOR JUNE 19, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 24

Under Clearing Skies

Twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation of East Timor ended last September in a frenzy of murder and destruction. Now the Timorese are recreating their nation with energy and hope


The first president of the first court in the world's youngest nation has an office on the second floor of Dili's white courthouse. It is large and gracious, if a little bare: a bookcase but no books, a desk without a computer. From this building, former lawyer and public servant Domingos Maria Sarmento and his seven fellow judges will help build East Timor's new justice system. None has any experience on the bench. None has any doubt about how big a job it's going to be. "We have to find justice for all people in the courtroom," says Sarmento. "There was none before." It's a lesson he learned a long time ago--he was arrested for visiting the same courtroom when independence leader Xanana Gusmao was on trial in 1993. He was a curious passerby; Indonesian secret police accused him of working for Gusmao. If he walks to his window now, he can look across the road to the low building where he was tortured for a day and a night. He can't speak about it, falls silent, turns away.

This is East Timor, where a new nation is being built on the grave of the old, on a scarred landscape still littered with the broken walls and smashed glass of last September's militia violence. The land is slowly burying the past with weeds that climb high over the rubble. And the people are recovering too. Though there are complaints that the rebuilding, overseen by the international community through the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), is too slow, most East Timorese are simply savoring an unfamiliar freedom. During the years of Indonesian military occupation, thousands of East Timorese were turned out of their homes, tortured or killed, for wanting independence. Now they see the chance of a new nation worthy of the sacrifice. "We knew from the priests that paradise is in heaven," says Taur Matan Ruak, vice-commander of Falintil, the armed guerilla force. "But that's also what we wanted for our country, for it to be paradise."

Militia groups did all they could to smash that dream. TIMOR, EAT STONE, reads graffiti on the wall of a former Indonesian army building in Dili. The threat is scrawled on ruins around the country: have independence--but nothing else. For two weeks last September, after the announcement that 78.5% of East Timorese had voted for independence in an Aug. 30 ballot, gangs of East Timorese militiamen, supported by sections of the Indonesian military, ransacked the country. No one knows how many died, though conservative estimates are at least 1,000 people; as many as 300,000 others fled their homes or were herded into camps in Indonesian West Timor. At least 80% of all houses, public buildings and essential utilities were destroyed, including an estimated 65,000 homes. Crops were burned and livestock slaughtered. Nothing was safe from fire or machete: from uma lulik sacred houses to government records, schoolbooks to public phone boxes, tractors to convents. When the first international troops arrived on Sept. 20, they found a land in ashes. "There is no precedent that matches the scope of the challenges facing the U.N. in East Timor," says UNTAET head Sergio Vieira de Mello. There were few buildings and few skills: most senior civil servants and businessmen were Indonesians who took their money and expertise with them when they left after the referendum. Gone as well was any formal legal, political or economic framework. When UNTAET staff first arrived in November, says Vieira de Mello, public administration "had completely collapsed."

Nine months after the violence, the job remains daunting. "We're starting from zero here," says Luis Miguel Ribeiro Carrilho, director of the new Police Training Academy. But there's been some progress. More than 20,000 emergency shelter kits have been distributed by members of an international contingent which, on top of UNTAET's 2,100 staff, includes 44 international and 128 local aid agencies (NGOs). Makeshift markets have sprung up in towns and villages across the country. Farmers are gathering rice and coffee, though many harvests are late and small. Most schools are open again, though often without desks or books. Dili's traffic pounds heavily along roads newly lined with small kiosks selling soft drinks and vegetables. Traffic wardens are being trained, taxes collected and a civilian post office has been opened. And everywhere, in fields and on footpaths, people talk about what they want their nation to be. "A year ago in Dili there was no one on the streets after 5 at night," says local resident Roberto Soares Cabral. Now a soft dusk falls on streets busy with children, motorcycles, pigs and taxis. Older rituals are returning to the country: cock fights in dusty village squares and solemn religious processions, with children in formal white, winding down mountain roads overhung with vines. And at night, the land is quiet again. "We never hear shooting anymore," says Olympia Fernandes, who lives with her husband and seven children in the eastern coastal town of Baucau, "so we know we are free."

The stark blue of U.N. tarpaulins, handed out in the first desperate months as emergency shelter, is common in Timor. So is the bright glint of the sun on new corrugated iron roofs. The U.N. plans to provide building materials to rebuild 35,000 destroyed homes; the rest, it's hoped, will be rebuilt by their owners, although UNTAET admits imported building materials will be too costly for most Timorese. Still, some communities have made a start. In the mountains southeast of Dili, 15 men work on the destroyed school in their village of Orlala, which also lost its church and health clinic. Long-awaited wood and tools have just been delivered by UNTAET. "Even though it's late, we're happy," says teacher Manuel Sarmento. "We're thankful for the help." The school's 200 students will use paint and plywood while they wait for chalk and a blackboard. Across the country, about 200,000 children are back in school, their teachers working for pocket money and food until a new salary structure is devised. In the badly damaged eastern town of Fuiloro, boarders at the Salesian sisters' school are at their studies, even though their dormitory hasn't been rebuilt and they still cook outdoors. "Before, Indonesians just hired other Indonesians, and our students had no motivation," says Salesian community leader Sister Cecilia del Mundo. "Now we're telling the children that they're the ones who'll build Timor." And southwest of Dili, among damp hills lost in fog, the people of Olopana are moving their primary school back to where it was before Indonesia invaded in 1975, after Portugal abandoned its former colony the previous year. "They made us move it down the hill, but it was too far for the children," says teacher Domingos Rosario Maia, nails and hammer in hand. "Independence means we can put it back here, where we like it."

Independence also means a new curriculum, repairs to the 95% of schools damaged, and extra teachers to be found--most secondary school teachers were Indonesian--before the new term starts in October. The challenge is just as great in health care. General health before the ballot was already poor; the exit of Indonesian doctors means there are just 25 East Timorese general practitioners and one surgeon for a population of around 900,000. Three-quarters of rural health clinics were destroyed and many villages now rely on church groups and international NGOs. From Maubara, a coastal town west of Dili, Carmelite sisters travel to seven villages to offer what medical help they can. "I thought I could hang up my spurs when the U.N. got here," says Sister Joan Westblade, an Australian nun working in Maubara, "but because they've lost everything, people are now worse off than they were before." On a humid Wednesday morning, villagers in Kaikasa kiss the nuns' hands before queuing silently for tiny plastic bags holding antibiotics and antimalarial drugs. Three hours down the road, in the town of Maliana, a former militia stronghold, NGOs have hung banners with the warning, written in the traditional Tetum language: DENGUE AND MALARIA ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN MILITIA.

The queue at Dr. Daniel Murphy's clinic in Dili forms early. By nightfall, the American physician and his staff, including seven Timorese medical students, will try to see as many as 200 patients. Measles and tuberculosis epidemics, malaria and diarrhea take all Murphy's resources and time: "We always have shortages, always." A 15-month, $12.7 million project, funded by the World Bank-administered East Timor reconstruction fund, plans to begin building 25 rural health centers by year's end. An Interim Health Authority, with six international and 29 East Timorese staff, is designing a new health-care system. As in most areas, it's a juggling act: the trick is to handle the emergency phase while preparing long-term plans but, says the Authority's Australian coordinator, Dr. Jim Tulloch: "We don't want a health policy driven by this emergency period and its reliance on international NGOs."

There are similar hopes for eventual self-reliance in agriculture--a sector whose prosperity is vital, given that 90% of the population are farmers and 50% are subsistence farmers. Though crops and seed supplies were burned, machinery stolen and livestock killed, says Serge Verniau, co-director of UNTAET's agriculture section, "many farmers are back in their fields." To help them, UNTAET plans to hand out 2,000 water buffalo and Bali cattle and about 100,000 chicks next month. At the same time, irrigation systems will be repaired and a start made on phasing out fertilizer use on coffee crops--the country's main export and great economic hope--in favor of high-grade organic production. Indonesian authorities relocated farmers and imported rice. "The Indonesians wanted us to be dependent, so they never taught us anything," says Alfonso dos Santos, a former East Timorese police officer working on a permaculture project in the village of Hera, east of Dili. But now, says Verniau, there's no reason why East Timor shouldn't be agriculturally self-sufficient: "We have great confidence in the farmers."

There are high expectations, too, of East Timor's new police, 50 of whom are now being trained in Dili by police from around the world. In one of the Police Training Academy's back buildings are dismal Indonesian police cells which once held pro-independence leaders; just meters away, cadets now attend classes on ethics and human rights. Chosen from 12,500 applicants, these cadets will have 150 more classmates by October. Like the judiciary, they will play a key role in the country's development. "If they have a good attitude toward the public, democracy will be much easier to achieve," predicts director Ribeiro Carrilho. "They have to feel they have a big responsibility on their shoulders."

But the heaviest burden weighs on the shoulders of East Timor's political leaders-in-waiting, who must make the leap from rebels to law-makers. "It was easier fighting with our rifles in the bush," says Falintil's Matan Ruak. "Now we have to think of how to feed the people, how to educate their children--and it's much more difficult." Elections are planned for late next year--the inauguration of the first government sealing the nation's independence--but while East Timor's people are well versed in political ideals, they're inexperienced in political processes. Until the election, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (C.N.R.T.)--the non-partisan coalition of disparate political interests formed in 1998 with independence as its goal--is seen as a de-facto government, and this month is helping to draw up the nation's first budget. There's already been a taste of the hard choices to come, with argument over C.N.R.T.'s choice of Portuguese as the country's official language--many Timorese favor English or Tetum. Political education and the flourishing of political parties, says the U.N.'s Vieira de Mello, must wait until the country's emergency phase is over, "and that continues until we are able to provide basic services."

To do that, UNTAET aims this year to recruit 7,000 East Timorese civil servants, at an annual salary cost of around $28 million. "They will be the engine of reconstruction at the central and local level," says Vieira de Mello. "We can't move from emergency to reconstruction in the proper sense without a functioning public administration." But thousands of former employees of the bloated Indonesian public service will miss out--adding to the unemployment problem already worrying locals like Ofelia Napoleao, who has 250 people on a waiting list for jobs at her clothing factory. Twenty-three years after fleeing Dili, Napoleao shut her sewing business in Australia and flew back last November. She began by sewing aid tarpaulins and now trains 50 staff making clothes in an NGO women's project. Though they're happy now, her employees had a difficult start, says Napoleao. "They'd fight each other over scraps of fabric--they'd lost everything, so they needed to own something."

There are now 1,710 new businesses registered in East Timor; the majority of them locally owned, like the clothing boutique that Napoleao's sister-in-law Pascoela Neves is about to open. "It will be small," says Neves, "but my contribution to rebuilding Timor." The fledgling economy, in which the focus will be on coffee, petroleum and tourism, needs as much stimulus as it can get, as will the nation's embryonic middle class, estimated at around 20,000 people. There's been a rush of foreign investment since September, visible in the car yards, construction companies and restaurants that have sprung up around Dili, where you can buy Australian wine and $10 chow mein. But not everyone is pleased about the influx. "We won't have full independence until we have economic independence," says East Timor Humanitarian Response Group worker Octavio Conceicao, jailed seven times between 1989-1995 for his student activism.

There are deeper frustrations--about U.N. bureaucracy and the pace of reconstruction--and calls for more local involvement. "I know how high the expectations are and I know that we can't yet deliver on them. And I'm just as frustrated about that as East Timorese are," says Vieira de Mello. "Some expect the U.N. to bring freedom, security and affluence within a matter of months. That is not going to happen--it will take many years." A major problem is late payments by international donors: despite pledges of $147 million to the World Bank-administered reconstruction fund in December, just $24 million had been received by mid-April.

Then there's what Vieira de Mello calls UNTAET's "greatest weakness": inadequate communication with local people. Vicky Tchong, an East Timorese who has returned after 17 years in Australia, says that gap is obvious in Dili, "where East Timorese sit and watch everyone else buzzing around, without any idea of what they're doing." The growth of a free press should help, says Aderito Hugo da Costa, chief editor of the six-page Timor Post newspaper, 400 copies of whose three editions each week are photocopied at the local car rental company. "Our people are preparing for full independence and they need to know what is happening," he says. That's a challenge in a country where half the adult population can't read. Also delaying progress, says UNTAET's Verniau, is the amount of planning needed: "It would be very easy to say, 'Let's just try this' but who would suffer the consequences of a mistake? The farmers, not us. It would be criminal to do that." Falintil's Matan Ruak has traveled through the country's 13 districts to explain that a rushed approach may be a wrong one: "We fought for this for 24 years, so we need time now to reconstruct. We want to get it right."

Communities are being pieced together again with more than concrete and nails. Some 162,000 of those who ended up in West Timor have returned--among them militia members. Many of those accused of serious crimes have been arrested--123 people are now in custody, most of them in connection with the September rampage--but others have gone home, even as the number of exhumations nears 200 and investigations into alleged human rights abuses continue. At the village of Cribas, southeast of Dili, 17 former militia members, escorted home by a local priest, now spend two days every week helping neighbors finish new houses. "Some of us wanted to beat them," says local farmer Albino Matus Soares, "but they're human beings and they were asking for forgiveness." Others, like Deng Giguiento, a Justice and Peace Commission worker in Baucau, worry that the return of militias can happen too soon: "You can't just erase people's hurt and anger." Father Rafael dos Santos survived the massacre at his Liquica parish on April 6, 1999, in which up to 200 people were murdered by militia groups forming before the ballot. He urges reconciliation, which has involved the church and C.N.R.T. counseling local communities: "Forget everything, so we can work together for a new nation."

There are many wounds still to heal. Foreign police officers now live in Father Rafael's former residence at Liquica; it's freshly painted, and pajamas dry outside under a bougainvillea in pink bloom. Men noisily repair a ceiling nearby. But the church's gardener, Matteus Barros, fears the ghosts of that day: "I never stay here alone in case they come." Far beneath the Carmelite order's Maubara hillside home, scrawny goats wander on stony beaches. Five-year-old Atina lives with the nuns. Left with them as a three-month-old by her Falintil-guerrilla parents, Atina now refuses to go back to her family. Damaged children are everywhere: in Laga, east of Dili, a Salesian orphanage has 60 extra children because of September's violence. They've barely enough room. One four-year-old boy, Balthazar, was in his father's arms when militia fighters killed the man. Dr. Daniel Murphy still sees deep suffering; one 22-year-old woman went blind fleeing militia, yet her eyes "are perfectly normal," says Murphy. "She won't tell us if something horrible happened but somehow she protected herself by not seeing anymore."

And yet, despite the horrors seen and losses endured, joy resonates through the country. "With two hands we accepted what came our way," says Anita Soares, a widow with four children, who lives in the village of Letefoho, where horses graze under enormous banyan trees and mist falls like a blindfold over treacherously slender roads. "Then we waited and waited for what we dreamt of."

Finally it has arrived, says Sister Fabiola Gusmao, a Carmelite sister who risked her life to give Falintil fighters food and medicine: "The nightmare has passed. At night we can sleep without fear." Standing in his burnt Dili home, the rooms open to the sky and dragonflies hovering over puddles, English teacher Julio Sarmento Lopes says that losing everything was worth it: "If that's the consequence of independence, well, no problems. Even with nothing life is better because we can do what we want." In the village of Raeheu, Gabriel de Deus Maia and his wife Belina Soares de Deus have planted tobacco on the ruins of their house. They have built a makeshift home with bamboo and a U.N. tarpaulin under the dark mountains but it's too small for them and their 10 children. Food is often scarce and life is hard. Still, Gabriel says, while his wife smiles in agreement, "Liberty has made us feel lighter. We are content."

A road curls up from Dili and clambers around the edges of mountains before running down to the coastal plain beyond. Here, where the blind corners twist tightly above the deep valley, a group of East Timorese men are shoring up the road where it has slumped down the mountainside. It's hard work and they say they're not getting paid as much as they think fair. But they see more in it than the money. "Now we have the chance to do something for ourselves," says supervisor Jose Duarte. "We must do our best so that this will stand for a long time." He's talking about the road, but as they go back to work, shoveling and shouting, Duarte and his men are joining in the building of a nation, their backs bent to the dirt in the heavy heat of the morning.

Life On the Edge Trying to find their way home On foot or in the crowded trays of rusty trucks, they come every second Saturday to family reunion days at Batugade. Here, on the tense border between East and West Timor, thousands of East Timorese queue to enter the field that is neutral ground, where, for six hours, they can try to find family members who have been displaced across the border. More than 250,000 people were forced into camps in Indonesian West Timor during the post-ballot violence and while 162,000 have returned, thousands remain.

Among the crowd is Rosaria Pereira Tavares, who's walked five hours to search for her two sisters and two brothers. "I haven't seen them in three months and we need them at home," she says sadly. While they can come back to East Timor in U.N. convoys, many people, say aid workers, are being intimidated into staying by militia. Today's crowd numbers more than 9,000. International peacekeepers are on patrol--there have been disturbances before involving people accusing others of militia acts, and today it happens again, with one man pulled away by soldiers, startling the crowd, some of whom run in panic and weep. Mostly, though, the mood is one of relief and welcome--people shout and hug and eat; surreal picnics in a no-man's-land.

There are glad meetings in the biting sun. A desperate three-month search ends when Diolindo Barros finds his four-year-daughter Julietta. The child, taken to West Timor during September's madness by an aunt, is feverish and exhausted and Barros holds her close during the two-hour ride home to the town of Maliana. There, the sight of Julietta brings the family running. "We're just happy to be together again," says Barros, as Julietta is kissed and wept over. At this moment, their poor rice harvest and ruined home are forgotten.

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