Subject: SMH/E.Timor: Veterans of resistance struggle sniff election victory

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, August 13, 2001

Veterans of resistance struggle sniff election victory

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

His name is distinctive, and in coming months Australians may hear a lot more of the East Timorese independence leader LuOlo.

The Department of Foreign Affairs certainly thinks so, and earlier this year he was flown to Canberra to meet ministry mandarins for talks and a chance for them to get to know the man and the policies he represents.

Mr LuOlo, a native of the south-eastern town of Ossu, said to be the birthplace of East Timor's warrior leaders, is head of Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) the party tipped to win the elections on August 30 by a landslide.

About 400,000 East Timorese, in their first democratic election, will vote for an 88-seat Constituent Assembly.

Though 16 political parties will be competing for seats, the signs point to a peaceful ballot largely due to a non-violence binding Pact of National Unity. That accord was brokered by the independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao, who, despite his denials, is the man most East Timorese expect to be their first president; there are no other credible challengers.

Campaigning seems to be stronger on colour than substance. Freshly painted party political offices are opening in rural villages and towns, and flag raising ceremonies have become a means of promoting recognition of party symbols. Minor political parties in western Balibo have even been sharing transport to truck in their supporters, say Australian Army Civil Military Affairs officers.

East Timor's oldest political party, the Timorese Democratic Union, staged an election rally in Dili on Saturday, complete with brightly coloured, eye-catching flags, although it is not expected to garner enough support to be a big threat to Fretilin.

The previous weekend, traffic came to a standstill in Dili as Fretilin took over the streets. A conga line of trucks, motorcycles, cars, taxis, buses and commandeered United Nations vehicles snaked through town carrying thousands of cheering banner-waving supporters.

In the middle of a 13-district tour to shore up support, the Fretilin co-founder, Mr Mari Alkatiri, said his party could already count on receiving 80 per cent of the vote.

Mr Alkatiri, a long-serving member of East Timor's independence struggle, also acted as Cabinet Minister for Economic Affairs in the UN transitional government, and took a leading role in negotiations to broker a new Timor Gap agreement.

"Our policy is to be inclusive, because this will be the first independent government after 24 years of struggle," he said. "We will invite the most capable and skilled from other parties to join us, but not all the parties."

Fretilin, founded as a radical pro-independence party in 1974, is the veteran of the resistance movement. Its main support lies with the poor rural communities that comprise about 85 per cent of East Timor's 812,000 population.

While Fretilin supports free enterprise and would encourage responsible foreign investment to kick start the half-island territory's moribund economy, it is also intent on improving living conditions for rural dwellers.

Mr Alkatiri said that apart from Fretilin's priorities of education, health, infrastructure and poverty reduction, an investment code had been drafted that would offer tax breaks to foreign companies, including incentives for firms prepared to set up in rural areas.

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