Subject: JP: Refugees may be denied the vote

November 10, 2003

The Australian

E Timor introduces own coins

From a correspondent in Dili

EAST Timor introduced its own coins today, hoping to spur economic development and create a symbol for the country following its hard-won independence from Indonesia two years ago.

The silver and gold coins - called centavos - depict the country's main exports like fish, rice and coffee. They come in denominations of one, five, 10, 25 and 50 and are expected to eventually replace the US coins currently used for transactions in the half-island state.

There are no plans, however, to replace US bills with Timorese paper.

"The main objective is to facilitate the population to make transactions" using the new currency, said Abrao de Vasconselos of the East Timor Banking and Payments Authority.

"With the American coins, there are no numbers so it's hard for Timorese, especially in rural areas, to understand them."

Vasconselos said the new currency will help the government cut costs and alleviate a chronic shortage of the American coins in rural areas. However, they cannot be used outside the country.

East Timor officially gained independence in May 2002 following more than 20 years of brutal Indonesian rule.

East Timorese voted to break away from Jakarta in a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999, sparking attacks by pro-Indonesia militias that killed nearly 1500 people and destroyed most of East Timor's infrastructure before UN troops restored order.

For many, the currency's debut was another small sign of progress for the impoverished country, which has successfully prosecuted scores of pro-Jakarta militiamen blamed for the violence, formed an army and police and reopened the National University of East Timor.

"As an East Timorese citizen, I am happy today we started to use our own currency," said Gomes, a 34-year-old civil servant who goes by one name. "We have an identity now."

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