Subject: ABC: Ramos-Horta inducted as president as East Timor struggles with poverty

Also Calm Returns Ahead Of Ramos Horta Swearing In

ABC Online

Correspondents Report - Ramos-Horta inducted as president as East Timor struggles with poverty

[This is the print version of story abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2007/s1927515.htm ]

Correspondents Report - Saturday, 19 May , 2007

Reporter: Anne Barker

ELIZABETH JACKSON: A special ceremony will be held in East Timor today to swear in the country's second president, Jose Ramos Horta, who replaces Xanana Gusmao.

Under the Constitution the new president must take office on the anniversary of independence. It's five years today since East Timor became an independent nation.

But is East Timor better off today, with all the turmoil of the past year, than it was under Indonesian rule?

Our Correspondent Anne Barker has been back and forth to East Timor since the latest trouble began, and she filed this report.

ANNE BARKER: Several times during the recent campaign, East Timor's newly elected and long-divorced president Jose Ramos-Horta was asked by reporters, "Who will be East Timor's first lady if you win?"

And his reply each time, in his hesitant, heavily accented English was: "The first lady will be all the impoverished women of East Timor".

In a country of now one million people, where very few locals live in any real comfort, that's a lot of first ladies, and it's a reminder of just how poor this country is.

Since May last year I've spent nine separate weeks in East Timor, yet still the first thing that hits me every time I land in Dili is the overwhelming poverty.

The contrast between clean, civilised, first-world Darwin, just one-and-a-half hours away by plane, and impoverished East Timor couldn't be greater.

And I've seen plenty of poverty before. Over 20 years I've travelled widely through Asia, from remote villages in Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam, through Nepal and India, to many of the poorest parts of Indonesia.

In the end, East Timor is by far the least developed country I've seen, vastly less developed than Indonesia, itself a third world country. The capital Dili is hardly a city at all by our Western standards. Barely a single building is higher than two storeys.

All over town, entire buildings and hundreds of houses are trashed, burnt out, dilapidated, derelict. The human signs of poverty too are visible on every main street. Seemingly everywhere, young men in the prime of their lives sit around with literally nothing to do.

Far more people are unemployed here than in work, so it's hardly surprising that so many teenagers and young men engage in the vandalism and street violence that has wracked East Timor for more than a year.

Outside the capital too, life is simpler, but no easier. Families live in flimsy, bamboo huts, often scraping by on a tiny plot of vegetables, or a handful of chickens or a single cow, and everywhere those ubiquitous derelict buildings.

I'm constantly shocked at how many of these empty shells have been left like this, not just since last year's violence, but for eight years since the Indonesians trashed East Timor and left.

And I often wonder as I travel around, what would East Timor be now, if it had never voted for independence, and instead elected to stay part of Indonesia? Would things be better than this, as Indonesia makes its own democratic and economic progress? Would there be new roads, more jobs, development?

Would the East Timorese, given the chance, turn back the clock, if they'd known then the violence and poverty they'd endure years after winning their freedom? I don't know.

But for all the poverty and violence, the East Timorese are a stoic and resilient people, uncomplaining, almost happy in the face of adversity.

And perhaps the recent election offers one small insight. Well over 80 per cent of East Timorese voted not once, but twice, in the space of a month for a new president. Thousands of people waited in queues from seven o'clock in the morning to exercise their democratic right.

Many walked for miles to get to the nearest polling booth, and this in a country where voting is not compulsory.

It seems to me, the East Timorese value their right much more than the average Australian. And for most, poverty is still a small price for freedom.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Anne Barker with that report.

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Calm Returns Ahead Of Ramos Horta Swearing In

Dili, 18 May (AKI) - After days of scattered clashes, a semblance of calm has returned to the East Timorese capital Dili where the new president Jose Ramos-Horta is due to be sworn in as the second president of the tiny state in a ceremony on Sunday. The Nobel peace laureate who lived in exile for 24 years is one of the heroes of the struggle for independence from Indonesia. Ramos-Horta, 57, was foreign minister and then prime minister before winning the presidential run off on 9 May. He took nearly 70 percent of the vote in polls which international observers termed "free and fair."

The presidential vote came after a year of political tension and social violence which has polarised a large part of the local population, led to a change of government, forced 150,000 Timorese to abandon their homes and killed about 50 people.

Horta has promised to unite the country but the clashes of recent days - despite pleas for peace from the presidential loser Francisco Guterres - indicate that this will be no easy task.

One person was killed and at least 19 injured, houses were burnt and 20 people arrested according to the local police inspector Mateus Fernandesad, who admitted the local security forces had difficulty in curbing the violence.

"The gangs use firearms and it is extremely dangerous for us to intervene" he told Adnkronos International (AKI)

Calm was restored after joint intervention by the local police, the United Nations police and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers deployed a year ago as peacekeepers are violence

Sitting outside what remains of his house, in Bairopite district , Zeferino Maia, 45 cries and says he has no idea why he was a target. "I don't know why they attacked me and my family. I am just a normal person, I know nothing of politics or ideologies" he told AKI. "They burned my house and my car and now I do not have a place to sleep."

Zeferino will probably be forced to reach one of the refugee camps where there are still 37,000 of the 150,000 people forced to flee their homes as a result of serious fighting a year ago.

Among the residents of the camps, but also in many of East Timor's one million inhabitants, 67 percent of whom are under-20, there is growing disappointment at the realities of independence which cost so much bloodshed but which has not yet brought peace and prosperity.

East Timor continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world and is at the bottom of global UN rankings on key indicators. According to a 2006 UN report, nine percent of children die before they reach one year of age, half of the population does not have access to drinking water and 40 percent of people are unemployed or under employed.

Some sources say that more than 200,000 people died during the 24 years of resistance following the 1975 Indonesian invasion after colonial ruler Portugal pulled out. That concluded with a 1999 referendum in which 78.8 percent of Timorese voted for independence, which was officially declared in May 2002.

Horta takes over from Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader and the first president of the tiny republic.


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