of a New Nation: Difficult birth for E Timor
Straits Times February 13 2000
It's a difficult birth for East Timor
DAWN OF A NEW NATION
The work at hand to deliver the new nation ranges from rebuilding police stations to rewriting the law books. After the devastation wrought by pro-Jakarta militia last year, the United Nations has to help the people of East Timor rebuild their country. EDMUND TEE, who was recently in Dili, reports on the challenges ahead
TIMOR Lorosae -- the rising sun of Timor.
That is the name the East Timorese have chosen for their land, the name that is meant to be the name of a new country one day.
And as the name suggests, East Timor is still on the threshold of a fresh dawn -- but what a fiery one it is, given the violence which engulfed the territory last September, shortly after the majority of its people voted to break away from Indonesia.
Since then, peace has been restored, and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet) is now going about its business of forging a new country.
But dark clouds threaten to obscure this rising sun. In the words of the head of Untaet, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, year 2000 will be "an emergency year for East Timor".
"The humanitarian emergency, the rehabilitation emergency, is not something that we can overcome in a matter of weeks, despite all the efforts of humanitarian assistance bodies."
During the weeks of destruction and bloodshed, three quarters of its people left their homes, with about a quarter of the total population being taken to, or having fled, West Timor.
The World Bank estimates that about 70 per cent of the territory's infrastructure and all government functions were destroyed.
Most of the initial efforts of Untaet have, so far, been focused on restoring critical services, repairing damaged buildings, and distributing food and supplies. For instance, the airport reopened early last month, with scheduled commercial services from Indonesia and Australia to resume soon. Progress is also being made on Dili port.
Work will also begin on the telecommunications network. Phone services are now available only to those with mobile phones and satellite phones, which makes telecommunications within and out of East Timor a luxury for most locals.
Former clerk Euclides Monteiro, 28, who now earns a living ferrying journalists around Dili on his scooter, said only foreigners and the very rich can afford such phones.
Through an interpreter, he said: "It is impossible to for me to make calls now. At least under Indonesia, there were public phones, but now, there is nothing."
Similarly, the country's water and power-distribution systems, and traffic and road network, are being restored. As of December Untaet reported that some 50 locations in the country were still inaccessible by land.
For Mr Paulino Belo, 30, who now drives a passenger van in Dili, visiting his relatives in Baucau takes three hours longer than it used to because a bridge along the route is no longer there.
The transitional administration signed its first two contracts last month for redevelopment works with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), one for road repairs, the other to kick-start food production.
Daunting as these may seem, the physical restoration of East Timor is unfortunately the most straightforward task, compared to what Untaet still has to do.
It has to establish a local civil service competent enough to administer East Timor when it becomes independent. For now, Untaet is effectively the government, performing the tasks of the civil service, and involving locals only at the lower levels.
Politically, a National Consultative Council, comprising 11 East Timorese, including National Resistance Council of East Timor (CNRT) leader Xanana Gusmao, and four Untaet members, serve as a Cabinet to advise Mr de Mello, the de facto Prime Minister of East Timor.
The council has discussed the formation of a central bank and a commission to recruit civil servants, the norms for registering businesses and the form of the new fiscal system.
But the focus now is more on ensuring law and order, and making sure people have the basic necessities, such as food, shelter and health care.
According to an update from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), supplies are coming in, with about 16,000 lengths of timber, 21,500 sheets of roofing iron and 2,000 bags of cement awaiting distribution. More urgent aid items, such as rice and maize, are also being distributed, with the latest land shipments going to even the remoter places.
Following an outbreak of polio in Dili, a programme to vaccinate every East Timorese child under five years old started in the capital last month.
Mr de Mello put it bluntly: "We have other priorities to tackle before we can actually discuss what the future Constitution of this country should be, what the law and political parties should look like, and when those parties should be formed."
More pressing, and probably the hardest to accomplish, is the need to re-establish law and order, not with guns and troops, but through a general respect for the law.
Before this can even happen, laws must be written from scratch to replace those inherited from Jakarta. Generally, Indonesian law still applies in East Timor, unless superceded by new Untaet ones, or repealed.
While Untaet expects its Canadian-supervised police academy to start taking in recruits soon, a Civilian Police, or CivPol, made up of professional police officers drawn from around the world, has been set up.
On paper, CivPol looks like a credible force. But its weakness is that most of its officers do not speak the local language, Tetum.
Student Arthur Avelar, 19, said: "What is going to happen when CivPol officers try to settle a domestic dispute between man and wife? Can all of them speak Portuguese? Tetum? Bahasa? How can they police if they cannot communicate?"
Things look more promising in the new civil and criminal courts, established last month in Dili. The judiciary is made up of 10 magistrates, eight judges, and two public prosecutors. To administer justice to other parts of the territory, mobile courts will travel to each town until Untaet forms courts in every district.
More worrying, however, is that in the remoter parts, justice is still being meted out in "kangaroo courts", where people accused of being militia members are attacked.
Also, all is not quiet on the border with West Timor, with at least 10 skirmishes having been reported with pro-Indonesian militia or even Indonesian forces since Interfet started patrolling the border. Another potential source of instability is the presence of the Falantil resistance force, who have fought Indonesian forces for more than two decades.
. UN involvement in East Timor is unprecedented and the international community has so far agreed to fund this experiment. About US$522.45 million (S$883 million) was pledged at a donors' meeting in Tokyo in December for reconstruction, development and to help fund the Untaet.
Money talks, but more crucial is how well it is used by Untaet, in consultation with East Timorese leaders, to address the problems that Timor Lorosae faces.
AT HAND: A midwife named Untaet
THE United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet) has the job of maintaining peace, rebuilding the shattered society and economy of East Timor and helping it on its way towards independence.
Having been vested with legislative, executive and judicial powers, it has unprecedented authority that exceeds that of all previous UN missions.
Untaet is headed by Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, the special representative of the Secretary-General.
A Brazilian, he acts as the transitional administrator, and until East Timor is independent, is the territory's de facto Prime Minister.
Advising him is a Cabinet of sorts -- the National Consultative Council, which comprises 11 East Timorese, including National Resistance Council of East Timor (CNRT) leader Xanana Gusmao, and four Untaet members.
The council debates on issues affecting the governance of the territory, but Mr de Mello is not bound to accept their recommendations.
Untaet has three broad missions:
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE AND EMERGENCY REHABILITATION: The work in this area is led by a deputy special representative of the secretary-general, Mr Akira Takahashi of Japan.
His team is responsible for the repatriation of internally-displaced persons, the provision of food, shelter and medical assistance to the people, and helping people become self-sufficient in food.
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND GOVERNANCE: This comes under the charge of Mr Jean-Christian Cady of France, another deputy special representative of the secretary-general.
His team's responsibilities include the rebuilding and repairing of damaged facilities and services, and the forming of embryo ministries, a civilian police of about 1,640, drawing up laws, setting up of the judiciary, customs, excise, and immigration procedures.
ARMED SECURITY: This third component of Untaet, starting from mid-January, began a transition from the Interfet to actual blue beret peace-keeping forces. It is commanded by Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos of the Philippines, with an Australian No 2, Major-General Michael Smith.
This armed component of Untaet consists of about 8,950 troops and 200 unarmed military observers with four sectors of responsibility.
But the toughest part in the security department would be to prevent vigilante justice, said Mr de Mello, adding that the Untaet would go all out to persuade the Timorese not to practise it.
The time-frame this "midwife" has set for himself for free elections and independence for East Timor: Three years.
"I'm not sure we can achieve everything we want to in three years, but action is being taken in many of these areas, and I promise the full commitment of the UN in achieving these goals."
Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/