Subject: AP: Timor university holds first graduation ceremony since independence

Associated Press Worldstream

October 7, 2003 Tuesday

Timor university holds first graduation ceremony since independence

GUIDO GUILLART; Associated Press Writer

DLI, East Timor

When Sebastiao do Rego Guterres started classes at the National University of East Timor in 2000, instructors were in short supply, desks a luxury and much of the campus in ruins following a campaign of violence by the Indonesian army and its militias.

But on Tuesday, Guterres stood in a campus full of glistening white buildings and accepted his English degree. In doing so, he joined 383 others who made up the university's first graduating class since the country became independent in 2002.

Marked with patriotic songs and festive cheers, Guterres and others agreed this was more than a typical graduation. The event marked another small step for a nation still struggling to find its way after surviving 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule.

"This means a lot for our country and is a symbol of our independence," said Guterres, who plans to teach in the university's English department.

"Everyone has been saying the country is short of human resources," he said. "This will allow us to contribute to the country's development. Most of us have already been offered jobs in the government or with civic organizations."

The university - first established in 1986 - had long been a center of pro-independence activities and was repeatedly shut down by the Indonesian government. It was heavily damaged in 1999, after pro-Indonesian forces laid waste to much of the country following voters' approval of a U.N. sponsored independence referendum.

Nearly 1,500 people were killed and most of the country's infrastructure was burned to the ground.

U.N. troops finally restored order and East Timor gained full independence after a short period of transitional rule. The U.N. mission has been seen as one of the international organization's most successful nation-building efforts and is being eyed as a possible model for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Although the country still faces mounting economic problems and grinding poverty, the reopening of the university has been hailed as a visible sign of progress along with the country's working Parliament and its newly created army and police force.

Helped by US$6.8 million in funding from the United States, the campus library and three other buildings destroyed in the fighting were rebuilt. Its resurrection has spawned an education boom of sorts in the capital of Dili, with at least six other universities opening.

East Timor's prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, praised the students Tuesday but also warned them that they, much like the country, face a long road ahead.

A big challenge, he said, is finding experienced Timorese to work for the government, since Indonesians ran most ministries during the occupation. So far, U.N. employees have filled that role but they will depart next year and the number of new graduates is not expected to be enough to fill all the vacancies.

"Even though you graduate today, you will face many challenges and obstructions in the future," he said. "That is because there are not enough human and natural resources in the country. We have to work together to serve our people."

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