Subject: The Australian: Timor Riviera Meets Hell's Kitchen

The Australian 15 January 2000

Timor riviera meets hell's kitchen

THERE is a floating palace in Dili harbour, populated with an exotic, multicultural clientele with money to spend and tales to tell.

At night, they emerge from air-conditioned, four-wheel drives that clog the esplanade thoroughfare while they drink and dine in the onboard nightclub, the buffet-style restaurant and open-air bar.

By Australian standards, it is more an RSL than country club, but moored just metres from the foreshore and guarded day and night against their entry it appears palatial to the average East Timorese.

This is the Hotel Olympia and the UN pays $US160 ($240) a night to secure rooms for its staff, thereby guaranteeing the owner who transported it to East Timor a 90 per cent occupancy rate.

But East Timorese are not allowed to enter the Olympia or the barge of air-conditioned, shipping-container accommodation lashed alongside.

They mill instead around the entrance to its gangplanks hoping they will be chosen for some casual employment on the UN-set wage of $US5 a day.

Welcome to Dili, the East Timorese capital that has become two cities in one.

The first is the place reclaimed by a people who fled for their lives in early September but returned gradually, many going to gutted or extinguished homes, after the arrival of the Australian-lead Interfet security operation.

They are trying to restart their lives and their country's economic engine from scratch.

The other Dili is inhabited by a global community of aloof, mostly white, foreigners. They stand out in a crowd that, after 24 years of Indonesian occupation and enforced isolation, is unfamiliar with the appearance and mannerisms of those they call "mal-lie".

Not all UN staff live at the Olympia. Others discreetly find their own accommodation in rented houses side by side with the locals.

But the behaviour of some UN staff and employees of other non-government humanitarian agencies (NGOs) has raised the hackles of not just ordinary East Timorese.

On Christmas Eve, seven drunken youths carrying knives threatened UN staff as they came and went from the boat.

The Council for National Resistance in East Timor (CNRT) has requested that the barge be moved to a beach several kilometres out of town.

"We think it is an eyesore and we want it moved somewhere else," said senior CNRT committee member Joam Carrascalao.

"And we don't want a ban on East Timorese going in there. It is a form of discrimination."

Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, however, described some of the complaints by East Timorese about the UN as silly, including criticism that they pay $US14 for a meal on the barge ­ at least two days' pay for a local.

But Mr Ramos Horta is also critical of the behaviour of some UN employees.

"It is typical of many of the international peacekeeping missions of UN operations," Mr Ramos Horta said recently.

"They have to recruit people from all over the world. Highly paid, often many of them behave in an arrogant insensitive fashion."

There are plenty of others, however, who are more vocal in their condemnation of the UN, particularly the hundreds of East Timorese who acted as interpreters and guides during preparations for the August 30 independence referendum ­ and who have still not been paid.

UN staff deliberately destroyed any documentation bearing the names of its workers so that when their compound eventually fell to the militia, individuals could not be tracked down and killed.

Then came news that 90 Indonesian workers had been imported to construct a helipad for Interfet at Comoro Airport, which ignited another protest by about 200 locals desperate for work.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, concedes there are some problems with his staff but also that it is easy to generate envy and frustration in a country where the people have so little.

"It is understandable," Mr de Mello said. "There is a level of frustration that things should be done quickly and employment is a major issue."

Much of the rubbish discarded by the Olympia and other expatriate establishments eventually makes its way to the flyblown wasteland of Dili's municipal dump.

For hundreds of East Timor's children, some of them barely old enough to walk, the dump is not only the source of their next meal, but quite possibly their entire family's income. Every day, children line the road as they begin the 3km walk to the source of a violent stench.

The Australian Interfet rubbish dump truckdrivers love the kids. For a different reason, the kids love the drivers.

As the trash hits the deck it immediately goes flying skywards again as the screaming children tear through it looking for food or items of value.

At sunset, they head homewards, sometimes pushing little trolleys or carrying their hoard in boxes. Buyers drive past slowly in utilities, asking the kids what they've got to sell.

Scavenging is a problem that has existed in Dili since the first soldier finished his first can of beans and threw it in a bin. Yet the dump remains unfenced and open to the kids. Parts of it are on fire. All of it is festering and loaded with disease.

Women settle in for the day, looking for food for their pigs ­ or for themselves. Some of them cook what their children have found on little fires.

In trenches just out the back is raw filth ­ at 120,000 litres a day ­ from Dili's sewer system. An Interfet soldier working on the new sewerage pond nearby said eight East Timorese people had been employed to keep the kids out of the filth but "sometimes, as you can see, they don't get on top of them".

One boy, Julio, a 16-year-old who looked to be the size of an eight-year-old Australian child, said he was there every day. He said among discarded ration packs and food thrown out of the Interfet kitchens there was opportunity for him.

"I make some money here," said Julio. "People from the market buy it."

He said he found potatoes, eggs and carrots every day.

"Eggs are the best to find because they are easy to sell," he said.

"One egg we can sell for 1000 rupiah (25c)."

Julio said he never got sick from stirring through the rancid ground. "We are used to it. We are here every day."


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