Subject: One Year After Independence E Timor Finds It Tough Going

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

One Year After Independence E Timor Finds It Tough Going

DILI, East Timor, May 14 (AP)--As Indonesia marks five years as a democracy, its former territory of East Timor is celebrating its own landmark: one year as an independent nation.

But persistent poverty, anger at the slow pace of nation building and the struggle to come to terms with a brutal past are likely to overshadow any celebration next Tuesday.

"Life is better than it was under Indonesian rule, but just a little," said Moises da Conseciao, who spends his days hawking spicy barbecue chicken and corn-on-the-cob on the seafront of the capital, Dili.

"You try living on a couple of dollars a day," laments the 44-year-old father of two, fanning the coals on his brazier.

On May 20, 2002, the U.N., which had administered the territory since it voted overwhelmingly for independence two years earlier, handed over governance to the East Timorese.

Jubilation after more than four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of ruthless occupation by Indonesia didn't last long.

The new government faced daunting challenges: unemployment of 80%, an infrastructure sacked by retreating Indonesian troops, the need to balance war crimes prosecution with national reconciliation, and the first year has been rough.

Riots in January destroyed parts of the capital, including the prime minister's residence, and gangs linked to pro-Indonesia militias continue to kill and pillage.

These days, East Timor's expatriate community and a tiny local elite enjoy Dili's cafes and bars, but life for most of the country's 800,000 people remains as hard as ever.

"The poor are not benefiting from independence. Only the rich are," said Maria Verago, who lives in the capital.

The social gap has been cited as a cause for the January riots. Former guerillas who complain they cannot get jobs were also blamed for the unrest.

"The government cannot offer anything to solve the problems," said opposition politician Fernando Lasama de Araujo. "They know how to make promises to the people, but since independence they have not satisfied anyone."

President Xanana Gusmao has tried to ensure good relations with the country's giant neighbor and former occupier by not aggressively supporting calls for the prosecution of Indonesian officers.

Indonesian troops and their militia proxies destroyed much of the territory and killed up to 2,000 people before and after a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

In Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, charges were filed against 18 senior security officials over the bloodshed. The tribunal so far has acquitted 11 and convicted five, who got sentences from three to 10 years, leading some local and foreign rights groups to call the process a sham.

Prosecutors in Dili are pursuing their own war crimes trials, indicting nearly 250 people, including the former chief of the Indonesian military, Gen. Wiranto. Thirty people, mostly former militiamen, have been convicted.

East Timor is still dependent on foreign aid, but the country hopes royalties from a multibillion-dollar natural gas field under the Timor Sea will be enough to bring it economic independence when the project comes on line next year.

Government spokesman Gregorio de Sousa acknowledged there is much to do. "We cannot perform miracles in a year," he said.

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