|Subject: WP/Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo:
Freedom Is Not Enough
The Washington Post Saturday, May 18, 2002
Freedom Is Not Enough
By Carlos Ximenes Belo
DILI, East Timor -- East Timor will become independent on Monday, the first new nation of the 21st century. We are most fortunate to have reached this juncture: In 1999, ours was an utterly devastated land, after militia forces sponsored by the Indonesian military went on a calculated rampage. Their action was in response to a vote in which nearly 80 percent of the registered voters of East Timor opted for independence after nearly a quarter-century of Indonesian occupation.
As the United Nations flag comes down and the banner of our new nation ascends, these long-suffering people face a new set of challenges. East Timor is becoming independent at a time when issues of foreign assistance, poverty and debt are high on the international agenda. Efforts should be greatly increased to eradicate poverty from this martyred nation while peace and security are reinforced.
Militia groups remain in Indonesian territory, vowing to strike once international peacekeeping forces have left. After the terrible price East Timor has paid for its independence, the world must not permit such attacks to take place. It must never be forgotten that 24 years of armed conflict and the tragic loss of more than 200,000 lives -- one-third of our original population -- from war-related causes were followed by further killing and destruction in 1999 that left few families unaffected. Hundreds of thousands were forcibly uprooted while militias destroyed most of their meager possessions. And most of the territory's buildings and infrastructure were also razed.
The people of East Timor are grateful for the generous support provided by the United Nations and many countries, including the United States, to protect and rebuild their homeland over the past 2 1/2 years. But the scale of the destruction in 1999 was so huge that much of East Timor, especially the countryside, remains in ruins, with most of the population unemployed. This devastation will require many years to overcome, and any sensible development plan must first focus on putting people to work in reconstruction and road-building.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was right when he said recently that American carpenters and plumbers shouldn't be asked to pay for ill-conceived foreign aid projects. But what I am suggesting is something practical and of proven value that is in the spirit of what my religious order, the Salesians of St. John Bosco, has done for more than a century: job training. Let us train East Timorese as carpenters, plumbers, auto mechanics, electricians and the like.
Subsidizing on-the-job training for companies willing to invest in East Timor would also foster a good atmosphere for business. This is important not only because of the dignity of work but because unemployment, especially among youth, breeds instability. Many areas in our small but beautiful island nation are rich in species of wildlife and plants. Jobs for youths to protect the environment in these sensitive rural areas, and to beautify the devastated towns, would make a wonderful contribution to the development of our new nation.
Our national budget provides little money for employment or job training. At independence, East Timor will be one of the poorest nations in the world, with few resources. Most East Timorese will have less-than-adequate food, housing and health facilities; our country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Closely related to the question of jobs and sustained economic growth in East Timor and many other places is the need to create the capacity to develop. That means there is a need for strong support of basic literacy, putting all young children in primary school, and for health efforts aimed at preventing easily preventable diseases.
The last thing that East Timor needs is to incur debt, which would make it much more difficult to rebuild our country and eradicate poverty. If the United States could increase the $25 million it provided last year in bilateral assistance to East Timor to $40 million per year over the next three years, it would be of great help in creating jobs and encouraging others to do the same.
Finally, an independent body should be set up to coordinate employment-related efforts in East Timor on the basis of merit and common sense. By now, many developing nations have learned hard lessons about the costs of corruption. I am determined to fight these maladies before they arise. If we are asking for support from the international community, we must be prepared to meet high standards of performance and transparency in all areas. Nothing less will suffice.
The writer is the Roman Catholic bishop of Dili, East Timor. He shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.
"True independence" in East Timor will begin the day after the national flag is hoisted May 20 - when the nation recovers from celebrating and gets down to work, Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo said Friday.
"True independence means work and development and it begins on May 21", the country's spiritual leader told journalists in Dili.
Bishop Belo also stressed he considered that real democracy would only be possible when the dominant Fretilin party had to deal with a "strong opposition".
"As long as there is no strong opposition, we don't have democracy", he said. "We will create it and hope that there will be a strong opposition in parliament and in the future for balance and alternation of parties" in power.
He downplayed the significance of strong Indonesian security measures, including two warships off the Timorese coast, for President Megawati Sukarnoputri's visit to Dili for independence celebrations.
Belo said he worried that the exit of 75 percent of UN administration staff would generate increased unemployment, especially among office workers, in restaurants and small shops.
He urged people not "count solely" on government for solutions, while calling on the authorities to "adopt measures" to prevent possible problems with out-of-work, restive youths.
Rebuilding the devastated infrastructures would now be the government's "biggest task", Belo said, "so that the new nation, "born as Asia's poorest", can become its "richest in five or six years".
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