Subject: AFP: Timorese hopes fade nine months after independence

Agence France Presse

March 2, 2003 Sunday

East Timorese hopes fade nine months after independence

DILI, March 2

Sitting by the road on the Dili waterfront, Jose Belo Pereira ekes out a living selling coconuts to passers-by. His two-dollar-a-day profit is not exactly what he hoped for under independence.

Although he supported the breakaway in 1999, Pereira was better off financially under Indonesian rule. And he has little idea what the future holds for him, apart from more coconuts.

It is a common story in East Timor these days, nine months after it gained independence from United Nations stewardship.

"Before, I worked building the road. Now there is no work like that. Even if we look for work, we don't find work," the 20-year-old told AFP.

"They don't give it. If we ask, they say, 'There are lots of people.'

"If we don't know English they don't give work. If people know English they give it."

Pereira's life is tough, even though he is single. He buys his coconuts for 10 cents apiece and sells them for 50 cents. He generally sells around 10 a day, he says, making a grand total of four dollars profit -- minus the two dollars he has to pay for transport to work.

But at least he has some kind of work. An estimated 70 percent of the population is unemployed. Students are enrolling for courses at tiny "universities" that will never bring them jobs.

Health services are still minimal and often non-existent outside the main towns.

Analysts say the situation is a fertile breeding ground for discontent with the government and may be storing up problems for the future, which anti-independence forces in West Timor might well seek to exploit.

In the parliamentary election of 2001 Pereira chose Fretilin, the formerly socialist party now in power. In the presidential election last year he voted for former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao, who won by a landslide. But now he says his leaders are only interested in their own positions.

He is far from alone in that view.

The biggest sign of dissatisfaction came last December when rioters burned down the home of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and targeted other properties linked to him and his family.

Despite Fretilin's election win in 2001, UN sources say people voted for it largely out of loyalty to the party that originally declared independence in 1975 -- rather than out of support for its current leadership.

Many of its current leaders were abroad for the entire 24 years of Indonesian occupation, when an estimated 200,000 Timorese died at home of war, starvation and disease. Alkatiri spent most of the occupation in Mozambique and despite his leftist past, is a member of a wealthy Arab family of Yemeni origin.

He is also a Muslim whereas most East Timorese are Roman Catholic.

A hint of the danger appeared in the December riots.

"It was a riot that was not just running amok. It was able to pick out Alkatiri targets separated by kilometers," said one UN source.

With UN funding still keeping the country afloat and substantial oil revenue from the Timor Gap still some years away, the question is whether East Timor will be able to cope after the UN support mission withdraws.

Under current plans, that should take place on June 30 next year.

Party, said independence had come too early. The United Nations simply wanted to ensure that its own operations in East Timor were not labeled a failure, he said.

"You have to have a strong economy. Enough at least for the basic things. You should not go to the international community," he said.

"Perhaps we needed about five years of reconstruction."

To compound matters, the Fretilin leaders from the diaspora were out of touch with how the country had changed since 1975.

"They missed completely the new developments here in East Timor, " said Carrascalao.


Timor -discontent

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