Subject: JP: ET readies somber celebration

The Jakarta post May 19, 2002

E. Timor readies for sober celebration

Aboeprijadi Santoso, Contributor, Dili

Dili is bustling with preparations for the celebration of East Timor's independence, but those who might imagine that it is going to be a grand ceremony would be way off mark.

Budgetary constraints have seemingly driven the new Timor Lorosae administration to err on the side of prudence.

The poverty-stricken embryonic state has access to only about US$440 million, from international donors, over the next three years.

With the exception of the Mercado Lama (old market), which has been rejuvenated after it was destroyed by pro-Indonesia militias in 1999, and an ongoing documentary film festival, Dili doesn't look like a city set for an international celebration.

The whitewashed ex-Portuguese building of the United Nations Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) has now become the center of power of the new administration, but it remains as it was, plain and simple.

Two rows of flags from 92 countries, which will be represented at Sunday's celebration, flutter outside the building.

Lecidere Square, opposite Bishop Belo's official residence, has also turned into an exhibition complex.

Interestingly, Taci Tolo, where three lakes are located next to each other at Dili beach, has been chosen as the site of the celebration.

"It is facing the sea, so you get a cool breeze in the evening; it is also a vast area that can accommodate thousands of people, including international heads of state and dignitaries," East Timor representative in Jakarta Jovencio Martins told The Jakarta Post.

Although that is good enough reason alone, Taci Tolo also has a historical significance. It is part of the site at which the Indonesian army first landed when Indonesia invaded East Timor on Dec. 7, 1975. It is also the place at which rebellious youths demonstrated for the first time.

"Many witnesses recall the angry face of (then Indonesian Armed Forces commander) Benny Moerdani watching the protesting youths, who demanded a referendum when they welcomed the pope in October 1989.

"All that happened at Taci Tolo, and no one in Dili will ever forget that," foreign affairs official Jose Amorim Dias said.

The papal visit was, at that time, very controversial, as Jakarta had only reluctantly allowed it to take place and the demonstration signaled a resurgence of East Timorese resistance. Just over two years later, youth protesters were shot dead when they publicly demanded independence at Santa Cruz cemetery on Nov. 11, 1991.

In addition, human rights activists here pointed out that many undercover proindependence activists were thrown from helicopters at Taci Tolo or murdered elsewhere and their bodies left to rot at the bottom of the three lakes.

So the celebration of independence day at Taci Tolo appears to convey tacitly the message that not only will East Timor greatly respect its freedom fighters, but also that the new nation-state is reminding its neighbors and the world that it will never again allow itself to become the victim of aggression.

Indeed, the ceremony and celebration will end with the inauguration of Taci Tolo, referred to in the official UNTAET agenda as "The Garden of Heroes".

The ceremony will start at 9 p.m. on Sunday (7 p.m. Western Indonesia Time) with a public mass followed by a welcoming address and speech by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He will symbolically transfer sovereignty to Parliament Speaker Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres as the UN flag is lowered.

The climax of the ceremony will be at midnight on Sunday, 20 May, when the speaker of the ceremony will read the declaration of independence and the flag of the Democratic Republic of Timor Lorosae (RDTL) will be raised.

The speaker will then take the oath of president-elect Xanana Gusmao as the new President of East Timor. The ceremony will end with the inauguration of the Garden of Heroes, the raising of a giant Timor Lorosae flag and a firework display.


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