Subject: IT: 'Don't expect miracles', says Timor leader

Irish Times Monday, January 17, 2000

'Don't expect miracles', says Timor leader

By Conor O'Clery

ASIA LETTER: Men and youths in open-necked shirts and sandals began to gather at dawn on Saturday in the forecourt of the white college building in Jacinto Candido Street.

This, one of the few structures in Dili left undamaged in the autumn rampage by pro-Indonesian militias, was chosen by the UN interim administration to vet applicants for 1,900 jobs as drivers, guards, mechanics and clerks.

By midday 7,000 people had gathered. It got very hot, and there were no trees to shade the men, who became restless at the slow pace of interviews. This turned to anger when they learned that only those East Timorese who could speak some English would be considered, which excluded most of the crowd.

Some had walked miles to find work for families living in roofless shacks; now only the educated elite could get the jobs.

UN police and soldiers pushed them back, and stones began to fly. One hit a 19-year-old Australian gunner, bloodying his mouth. The crowd beat some Timorese UN translators, and one was stabbed. The situation was saved by the arrival of Jose Ramos-Horta who quickly grabbed a megaphone.

"I am ashamed," the unshaven Nobel peace laureate told them angrily. "I did not go around the world for 24 years raising the issue of human rights for the people of East Timor, telling them that East Timor people had a sense of human rights, honour, dignity and tolerance, to come here and see people using violence against whomever."

Some in the crowd told him they were sorry. Afterwards Mr Ramos-Horta partly blamed the very slow process of normalisation of life in Dili. "But I told them," he said, "please, remember Portugal was here for 500 years and what did Portugal leave behind? Indonesia was here for 24 years and destroyed every single thing.

"UNTAET [the UN transitional administration] and CNRT [National Timorese Resistance Council] have received this legacy just three months ago. Don't expect miracles."

The thoughtless UN recruitment exercise was abandoned, with promises to transfer it to the barrios, or suburbs. Such an incident had been simmering all week. The rising tensions in the East Timor capital have come to dominate all discussion here, where 80 per cent of the population is without visible means of support.

It topped the agenda at a CNRT congress in a nearby seafront building which Mr RamosHorta had been attending when the small-scale riot began.

Under the leadership of Xanana Gusmao, CNRT is trying to transform itself from a clandestine organisation into a government in waiting. Mr Gusmao's days are filled with meetings and he is exhausted, according to friends.

On the streets people express disappointment that he is rarely seen, and that he lectured rather than talked to them. "There is no communication between the leaders and the people and the UN and the people," said Francisco Dionisio, a student leader.

"Our real task," said a CNRT aide, "is to build institutions around the leaders so that they don't have to do everything and have time for reflection."

Xanana and Joćo Carrascalao did all the talking for the CNRT at a meeting on Thursday of the National Consultative Council, a joint UN-Timorese body chaired by Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian head of UNTAET.

The main issue was the low wages paid to East Timorese workers, a big source of discontent along with delay in reconstruction.

"The UN is scared of repeating the screw-up in Cambodia, where UN drivers were getting more than government ministers," said James McAuley from Strabane, a Phnom Penh veteran in the International Labour Organisation.

A four-day strike last week stopped all deliveries by the World Food Programme. Workers employed by the International Organisation for Migration damaged vehicles in a protest and brandished machetes at two aid workers.

East Timor is a "bed of roses" compared to Kosovo, said David Harland, a senior UNTAET official, but "social tensions will almost certainly get worse as major employment projects will not kick in for several months."

UNTAET hopes to launch "quick impact programmes" next week, said Mr de Mello, who feared "an obvious increase in the expectation and frustration of the local population with a rise in criminality and possible social unrest."

After the National Consultative Council meeting, he announced a five-tier "stipend", pending full-time appointments to an East Timor civil service, ranging from the equivalent of $77 a month for unskilled workers to $318 for heads of departments.

Some unrest has resulted from militia supporters turning up among the 100,000 people now living in Dili, two-thirds of the "pre-war" population. Angry youths hang around Dili transit centre to identify those who burned the capital.

Three militia families have been hidden by the UN in safe houses after being attacked, although 27 militia members have been successfully resettled in Dili, after reconciliations, said Paul Stromberg of UNHCR.

Crime has also increased, and a sexual assault was made on a woman UN official in her house.

"Law and order is a priority," said a Dublin lawyer, John Ryan, who is UN administrator of Dili and is setting up a judicial system. "There is no sanction for wrongdoing and respect for law and order has been on the decline. There is fighting among youths in Dili and decreasing fear of civpol [unarmed UN police]."

One of these fights erupted in the market near the GOAL office on Thursday. Dili has two youth gangs, the Firaco on the east side and the Kaladi on the west. Before liberation, Indonesian repression and a night curfew kept rivalry in check.

Now the youths chase around on motorcycles. "What city in the world doesn't have gang fights?" said a UN worker. "You could even call it normal. But if there's no work soon, it could get out of hand."

Conor O'Clery can be contacted at:

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