Subject: KY: Timor seeks investment to tackle unemployment woes

Kyodo News Service February 3, 2000, Thursday

E. Timor seeks investment to tackle unemployment woes Tim Johnson

BANGKOK, Feb. 3 Kyodo

Xanana Gusmao voiced concern Thursday at the increasing potential for social unrest in the U.N.-administered territory due to widespread joblessness, and urged foreign investors to look into labor-intensive business opportunities there.

'We are now in a situation of emergency because everything was destroyed. There are no jobs and no business activities,' Gusmao told a group of Thai business executives on the third day of a four-day visit to Thailand, the fourth leg of a six-nation swing through East Asia.

'But we are powerless,' said the president of East Timor's umbrella political grouping, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

Gusmao, who was accompanied by CNRT Vice President Jose Ramos-Horta, urged foreign investors to establish an early presence in East Timor and take a long-term perspective on earning profits.

While acknowledging that business enterprises are by nature 'not charity organizations,' he said they could nevertheless extend 'some kinds of help so that my people can start working.'

'My people need to feel they're rebuilding their lives. They need to feel hope,' he said.

Last Friday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that widespread unemployment in East Timor, combined with disruption of social and public services and skyrocketing prices for food and other daily necessities, 'bear the potential for serious social problems.'

In mid-January, violence erupted among a crowd of 7,000 people waiting to be interviewed for 2,000 U.N. jobs in Dili, with U.N. staff and soldiers pelted with stones. The jobless rate in the capital stands at about 90%, while homes across the territory remain damaged or completely destroyed.

Local industries were decimated in the wave of violence that followed the Aug. 20 independence vote, while public servants lost their jobs.

Gusmao said the CNRT, which has prioritized national reconciliation, is under increasing pressure from the territory's desperate jobless.

'Because we don't give them jobs, opportunities to rebuild their lives, the reaction can be like this: 'You are not worried about us. Thank you for reconciliation but we are hungry and have no jobs.'

Ramos-Horta, meanwhile, noted that while most East Timorese live in the countryside and engage in farming, for city dwellers seeking employment 'there is not one single factory, industry of any sort to speak of.'

'The engine of a country is its business, the private sector, that can really get the country going. Even at that level we don't have a group of entrepreneurs to speak of,' the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said.

East Timor, with its abundant natural resources, including oil and gas, intends to offer foreign investors attractive incentives, he said, adding, 'The opportunities are immense.'

Ramos-Horta cited agriculture and fishing as sectors with particularly strong potential, along with tourism. 'We're only one hour away from Australia so we can have almost a captive market of tourists from Australia.'

East Timor could be used as a strategic base to export agricultural products and even electronic goods to Australia's remote Northern Territory, he said, noting that the CNRT is also pressing the European Union and the United States for tariff-free access for its products.

'The next two to three years are going to be years of consolidating peace and stability, and having a functioning government so that you can start investing with safety,' the executives were told. 'But in the meantime you can travel to East Timor to look at some opportunities.'

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