Subject: Infant nation prays for saviour to deliver it from decades of war

Also Seeking a voice with the old colonials; East Timor goes to the polls amid violence

From The Times (UK) April 7, 2007

Infant nation prays for saviour to deliver it from decades of war

East Timor waits for the result of presidential elections, braced for more violence but still holding on to the hope of peaceful progress

If they knew nothing of its tumultuous history, first-time visitors might conclude that being President of East Timor is a very comfortable and undemanding job. The national capital, Dili, is the prettiest, sleepiest city in South East Asia, a place of Portuguese colonial buildings on a beautiful curving bay. Steep green mountains rise above it into the mist; scattered across them, in an area half the size of Belgium, little more than a million people live in simple villages of wood and thatch.

They produce rice and some of the world’s finest organic coffee, with the bonus of oil in the strait dividing the island from Australia. But the impression of happy indolence does not last more than a few hours. On Monday, for only the second time in their brief history, East Timorese will choose a president at a moment of profound economic, political and social crisis.

Five years after independence, and seven years after the end of a brutal 24-year occupation by Indonesia, East Timor seems in many ways to be slithering backwards. Physically, in Dili at least, the depradations of the occupation have been repaired, and espresso bars catering to UN personnel occupy what were once burnt-out shells. But the country is also Asia’s poorest, with worsening levels of unemployment and poverty. Some 37,000 people across the country live in refugee camps after a deadly confrontation last year between the police and the Army that left 37 people dead and drove 120,000 from their homes.

Whoever comes out on top in the election must mediate between bitterly divided veterans of the independence guerrilla struggle, antagonistic East Timorese soldiers and police, a 1,150-strong force of Australian and New Zealand military peacekeepers, 1,650 United Nations police and a UN mission blamed for allowing many of the present problems to have developed. Half of the candidates issued a joint statement yesterday to say they feared that attempts had been made to manipulate the election.

“The winner of this election will win a wooden cross,” said José Ramos-Horta, the Nobel prizewinner, who is one of the presidential front runners. “Not as heavy as the cross carried by Jesus Christ, but almost as heavy.”

Few countries a hundred times the size of East Timor have experienced such extremes of distress and exhilaration in so short a history. Indonesia invaded in 1975 after the country was abandoned by its colonial ruler, Portugal. As many as 200,000 people died from war, disease and deprivation. Armed by Britain and the US, the Indonesian Army fought the East Timorese guerrillas to the brink of defeat. In 1999, in the face of growing international outrage, Indonesia allowed a referendum on the territory’s future.

A huge majority chose independence; the Indonesian Army responded by burning towns and deporting 250,000 people across the border to Indonesian West Timor. International forces restored order and the UN ran the country until 2002, when Xanana Gusmao, the hero of the guerrilla resistance, was elected its first independent president, with Dr Ramos-Horta as his foreign minister.

International goodwill came in aid from Portugal, Australia and the US, and an influx of experts and advisers. “In 1999, East Timor was an epicentre of destruction,” said Dr Ramos-Horta before independence. “Now, we have become a peaceful, stable democracy. Those who think the challenge of nation-building is doomed to failure should learn from East Timor.”

Beneath the excitement, however, chronic problems were developing. On top of generous aid, East Timor’s kitty from its oil fields amounts to $1.2 billion (£610 million). But the country still lacks a bureaucratic infrastructure capable of channelling it effectively into the hands of ordinary people. During the Indonesian occupation, technical jobs ­ as civil servants, secondary school teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, agricultural experts and economists ­ went almost exclusively to Indonesians. When Jakarta pulled out East Timor lost regular cash subsidies and the people with the skills to run the country. The return of Timorese exiles, educated in Australia, Portugal and its former colonies such as Angola and Mozambique, went a little way to filling the gap, but it will take a generation to train up a corps of Timorese professionals.

The task has been made harder by the decision to adopt Portuguese as the medium of government and education, rather than the local language, Tetum. “The impact of that decision was major,” says Keryn Clark of Oxfam, who has been working in East Timor since 1998. “People without a high level of Portuguese themselves are teaching in Portuguese to students who hardly know the language at all.”

Money sits uselessly in government bank accounts and without the stimulus of well-planned public spending, there is widespread poverty. Some 45 per cent of the population lives on $1 a day or less; among young people, unemployment is 44 per cent, leading to the growth of criminal gangs, based around rival martial arts clubs, who have brought to the streets of Dili levels of crime unknown under the Indonesia military occupation.

“Until 18 months ago, what you had here seemed very good,” says Ms Clark. “There was cohesion. People could laugh at their political differences in a healthy way.” But a year ago, months of accumulating tension exploded in an extraordinary near-civil war, universally referred to as “the Crisis”. Precisely what happened is murky even today, but it originated in discontent over conditions in the newly formed East Timor Defence Force. Six hundred soldiers presented a petition to the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri; when it was denied, they abandoned their barracks.

Ademonstration in Dili drew out the martial arts gangs, and shops and houses were burnt in days of rioting. Indistinct battle lines were established between President Gusmao and the East Timorese police on the one hand, and his Prime Minister and the Army on the other. To make things more baffling, the former faction was associated with people from western East Timor, the latter with those from the east. The tension was reduced when Mr Alkatiri resentfully resigned his post. But across the country, 37,000 people live in tent villages, 46 of them in Dili alone, either homeless or too afraid to return to their homes.

“All the candidates talk about the refugees,” says Agustinha Ximenes, who lives with seven children among 400 people in a malodorous camp of makeshift shelters across the road from the Australian Army’s principal base. “Next month we will have been here one year, and I don’t know how long we will have to stay.”

It is in this atmosphere of anxiety and confrontation that Monday’s election takes place. Facing Dr Ramos-Horta are two serious candidates ­ Fernando “La Sama” de Araujo of the Democratic Party, and the likely front-runner, Francisco Guterres, a former guerrilla commander known by his nom de guerre Lu’Olo, of the Fretilin party. Lu’Olo is a blunt former fighter, whose party has its origins in Third World Marxist-Leninism, and believes in saving the oil money for future generations. “If Ramos-Horta became internationally recognised it was not only because of his personal merits,” he told The Times, “but because of our people fighting and dying in the mountains for our cause.”

Dr Ramos-Horta is a suave and witty cosmopolitan, the friend of foreign leaders and film stars, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his one-man campaign in exile for Timorese independence. He has the backing of Mr Gusmao and his newly formed National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which welcomes the international military presence, and favours international borrowing and spending to see East Timor over its economic troubles. All sides blame the others for the state of the country, and for provoking the campaign violence.

The country waits fearfully for the results of the elections, braced for vengeful violence from the losing side. But given the agonies that they have been through, it is easy to lose sight of how much has been achieved ­ freedom, independence and functioning, though fraught, democracy.

“Look at the situation in a sober fashion ­ can you compare us to Sierra Leone, to the Solomon Islands?” says Dr Ramos-Horta. “We have enough money. Investment will pick up. We have fantastic people that, in spite of the failures of their leadership, did not sink into civil war. Five years is too early to judge whether a country is failing, or just going through its ups and its downs.”

Long struggle

­ Declared independence from Portugal on November 28, 1975; invaded by Indonesian forces nine days later

­ Over the next 20 years an estimated 100,000-250,000 people died as Indonesian forces struggled to keep control

­ In August 1999 an overwhelming majority voted for independence

­ Internationally recognised as an independent state on May 20, 2002

­ Before a multinational peacekeeping force in September, Indonesian-backed Timorese militias killed approximately 1,400 Timorese and forced 300,000 people into West Timor as refugees.

Source: CIA World factbook


From The Times April 7, 2007

Seeking a voice with the old colonials

Richard Lloyd Parry

East Timor, one of the world’s newest and poorest nations, will apply to join the Commonwealth, a decision that is already provoking opposition in the former Portuguese colony.

José Ramos-Horta, the country’s acting Prime Minister and a leading contender in Monday’s presidential election, said that Commonwealth membership would provide the tiny state with a voice in an important international forum, as well as bringing desperately needed opportunities for study for Timorese students.

“Even if I’m not elected there is a consensus, and I propose that we make formal submission this year to become a member,” Dr Ramos-Horta said. “I already discussed it with John Howard [the Australian Prime Minister] and Don Mackinnon [the Commonwealth Secretary-General]. We need to be sponsored by a strong lobby, but I think that Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and India will not say no.”

The proposal will dismay Portugal, which has gone to great effort to preserve East Timor as a Lusophone enclave, despite criticisms that adoption of Portuguese as the country’s official language has crippled the country’s education and justice systems. Only a small fraction of East Timorese speak Portuguese, resulting in a situation in which the authorities sometimes have to release criminal suspects because there are no speakers on hand to deal with the necessary bureaucracy.

The proposal has been treated with cautious scepticism by Dr Ramos-Horta’s main rival for the presidency, Francisco “Lu’Olo” Guterres. “We have a special relationship with the Portuguese-speaking countries,” Mr Guterres told The Times this week. “Ramos-Horta often seems to have such grandiose ideas. I want to take small, cautious steps before I commit to anything.”

Mozambique, which has no colonial links to Britain, is the only non-English-speaking country allowed into the Commonwealth, under special dispensation, largely because Nelson Mandela asked for it. The country, which gained independence in 1975 after almost five centuries as a Portuguese colony, became a member in 1995.

Membership of the Commonwealth “club” gives members access to scholarships and other educational opportunities as well as the chance to rub shoulders with countries from around the globe at summits and international get-togethers. Although Britain has few historical links with East Timor, Tapol, one of the nongovernmental organisations most active in the campaign against the Indonesian occupation, is London-based.

According to Dr Ramos-Horta, the country’s Arabica coffee is also a favourite with the British Royal Family. “Princess Anne was here, and she took back loads of Timor coffee,” he said. “It used to be the coffee of choice in Buckingham Palace in the Fifties and Sixties. I sent packets to Charles, William ­ all of them. I got a very nice letter back from Prince Philip.”

--- Telegraph (UK)

East Timor goes to the polls amid violence

By Sebastien Berger Last Updated: 12:44am BST 07/04/2007

East Timor goes to the polls amid unrest and violence Tempers flare as rival supporters clash at a political rally in Dili

Just behind the waterfront in the capital of Dili sits an Indonesian monument to its invasion of East Timor in 1975.

It took more than 200,000 deaths and 24 years before Jakarta's forces left in a final orgy of destruction, ruining 80 per cent of the buildings.

But rather than ushering in an era of peace, the world's second-youngest nation has experienced rampant violence and internal unrest since independence five years ago.

Hippolito da Silva, who lives in the shadow of the monument, was a victim of factional fighting and said: "All of our leaders are arrogant. They don't accept other people's ideas so they fight each other." advertisement

Conceived by a historical accident, born in blood, his country hopes to come of age on Monday in its first post-independence elections.

East Timor, a half-island with only 523,000 voters, is an object lesson in the difficulties of nation-building, even though it had vast goodwill in the wake of Indonesia's departure, and billions in aid. Australian-led peacekeepers patrol the streets checking for weapons, while in the countryside children's bellies are swollen by malnutrition.

Fretilin, the Left-wing independence party that formed East Timor's first government in 2002, has shown every sign of going down the same path to authoritarianism and ruin that so many newly independent states followed in the 1960s and 1970s.

"The longer this crisis goes on the more parallels people are making with African politics," said one Western diplomat. "The party's arrogance has been quite astonishing."

East Timor

Even the standing of Xanana Gusmäo, the revered resistance leader and incumbent president, has suffered after tensions in the police and military exploded on to the streets.

It culminated in his forcing the resignation of Mari Alkatiri, the Fretilin leader, as prime minister. "The interests each of us presented were not the interests of the state, of the people, " Mr Gusmäo admitted to The Daily Telegraph. Once a Fretilin leader himself, in the 1980s he left the party, creating a split with Mr Alkatiri that has never healed.

Damien Kingsbury, an academic at Deakin University, in Australia, pointed out that Mr Alkatiri and other Fretilin leaders lived in exile in Mozambique, a Communist dictatorship, during the Indonesian occupation.

East Timor could have taken a different path, but because of "the political education of people like Alkatiri it lacked the political imagination to. Kleptocracy is often the next stage. "That's already started," said Prof Deakin, "There's high-level corruption and serious problems are developing."

Western diplomats hoped the elections could herald a new era, but more than 30 people were injured in clashes on the final day of campaigning this week.

In keeping with the stereotype of post-colonial liberation, Fretilin is appealing to nationalism and its rallies exude aggression, complete with face-painted supporters, while officials predict an overwhelming first-round victory.

Its candidate, a former guerrilla fighter known as Lu-olo, insisted that it does not endorse violence. "We try our best to respect the law," he said. "We do not respond to violence with violence."

The president is backing his ally José Ramos-Horta, the Nobel laureate and current prime minister. He combines a charismatic electoral manner with a free-market outlook and is proposing an investment regime he describes as the second most liberal in Asia after Hong Kong.

"Many government officials have forgotten they are serving the state and the people, not the party," he said. "Patronage is one of the sins of the Fretilin government, inefficiency is another."

Western diplomats fear that if the Fretilin candidate fails to make the top two in the first round, it will trigger a fresh round of street fighting.

In the meantime ordinary Timorese, many living in grinding poverty, seek to get by as best they can. On the outskirts of Dili stands the Santa Cruz cemetery where at least 200 protesters were shot, stabbed and beaten to death by Indonesian soldiers in November 1991.

Antonio, 63, a maintenance worker at the site since the Portuguese era, would not say who he was voting for, but pointed out that there is no memorial to those who sacrificed their lives. "Maybe the government doesn't feel the same way as the people who died here," he said. 

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