Subject: IPS: Jobless and Hungry But Full of Hope

Subject: IPS: CORRECTED REPEAT//EAST TIMOR: Jobless and Hungry But Full of Hope By Kanis Dursin

DILI, Mar 6 (IPS) - The joy of winning independence seems to have been short-lived for Vasco Lopez as he ponders on how to feed his three young daughters amid limited resources and scarce job opportunities.

''I am worried about my children, about what they would eat since I have no job right now,'' said Lopez, whose house was burned down by pro- Jakarta militia during the post-ballot violence in East Timor.

''I have been going out every day to check with the UNTAET (United Nations) if there were vacancies. I am trying to apply for any job available.''

Before the August 30, 1999 referendum, Lopez, 28, worked for an Indonesian construction company, and earned between Rp450,000 and Rp1,000,000 (65 to 130 US dollars) every month, barely enough for his family of five.

But the rampage following the announcement of landslide victory of the pro-independence group destroyed almost all economic assets in the territory and drove businessmen, who were mostly Indonesians and pro-autonomy East Timorese, out of the former Portuguese colony, leaving those remaining in the area with little means of survival.

''The economic condition in East Timor is very difficult as there are very few job opportunities around. I never thought the situation would develop this way,'' Lopez lamented.

''I'm afraid my children will suffer from diseases or die of hunger if my husband could not find a job to support our family,'' said Lopez's wife, Maria Maia Odorozario de Sa, while trying to comfort her three daughters who were crying for food.

Latest data provided by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) showed that up to 80 percent of East Timor's population of over 700,000 are ''currently without visible means of support''.

Upon his arrival in Dili, Lopez cultivated a piece of land left by former East Timor governor Abillo Soares, who now resides in Kupang, the capital of Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province. ''The harvest was not so good because the planting season had already passed when we returned,'' Lopez said.

Like most East Timorese, the Lopez family has been depending heavily on humanitarian assistance. Last November, the Lopez family received a total of 50 kilograms of rice from the United Nations, but the rice has long been consumed.

A wide range of aid agencies led by the World Food Programme distributed a total of 15,000 metric tons of food to the East Timorese from September 20, 1999 to January 31. Each person was given about 10 kilograms of rice.

Before the August 30 ballot, East Timor had an estimated population of 829,000 people. Estimate by the United Nations Population Information Centre showed that 110,000 East Timorese are still in Indonesian West Timor.

Since January, only the most vulnerable groups benefited from the food distribution. UNTAET implemented the change to minimise food aid dependency and to prevent food market distortion in East Timor.

Maria said her family has not received any food assistance from the UNTAET since November, but they have managed to survive through aid from other donors like the Catholic Foundation, Caritas.

''Pro-integration people are now laughing at us. They say 'look, you pro-independence people, now you become even poorer.' We ran away with our belongings and have returned also with our belongings,'' Maria said in tears.

At the height of the post-referendum violence, Lopez, who was known as a fanatic pro-independence supporter, sought protection from Falintil fighters in the jungle, while his wife and three daughters took refuge in Turiskai village in Indonesian West Timor.

When they returned to Dili a month after the arrival of international forces led by Australia in late September last year, Lopez and his wife found their house in Surikmas low-cost housing complex already razed down. All of their belongings and home appliances were either burned or taken away by the militia.

''We already ran away before the militias burned down our house. Had we stayed here in this house, we would have been killed,'' Lopez said.

Asked about his feeling toward pro-Jakarta militias, Lopez said: ''As an ordinary human being, I am always tempted to take revenge, but I could not. I will just let the existing laws to deal with them.''

Lopez, together with his wife and daughters, is now staying in a house left by the brother of his wife, who supported autonomy during the referendum campaign and was believed to have provided information to pro-Jakarta militias. Maria's brother fled to the neighbouring island of Flores shortly after the announcement in early September of the results of the referendum.

Lopez and other East Timorese living in the former Indonesian province now scramble for food, shelter and jobs. Due to widespread unemployment, signs of increasing criminality have emerged over the past few months.

''We are hungry, we need jobs now. Any job will do as long as I have one. I have families to feed,'' shouted Hugo, a young man who was queuing up to register for a job application with the UNTAET.

Humanitarian agencies are currently one of the largest employers in East Timor accounting for over 3,000 jobs.

''I am a little bit disappointed because job opportunities are insufficient. We need food to eat,'' said Jose, who was applying to become a police officer.

''In terms of security, we already knew that the situation would get worse because even before the referendum there was widespread violence in East Timor. But in terms of economic situation, we never thought it would become like this,'' he said.

''We have been very busy these past few days attending to the needs of applicants. Job opportunities are indeed very limited in East Timor,'' said a man attending to East Timorese wanting to become policemen.

Getting employed has proven to be doubly hard for most East Timorese not only because of limited job opportunities, but also because all vacancies require either Portuguese or English speaking East Timorese.

''I have been applying for any job with the UNTAET, but could not get one because UNTAET is looking for English-speaking East Timorese only. I feel that is unfair because as a nation, East Timor will have its own language,'' said Lopez, who finished senior high school only.

''We, pro-independence people never had the chance to learn English or Portuguese. Why they (UNTAET) ask us to speak in English or Portuguese?'' said Barretto, another man applying to be a security guard with UNTAET.

As of February, UNTAET was employing some 670 local staff members, mostly as drivers and interpreters. Recruitment is underway to employ another 1,900 East Timorese for work within the mission.

UNTAET has launched quick impact projects in hard-hit districts to employ local people in rehabilitating their communities. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has started small-scale road rehabilitation projects, which are expected to provide employment to hundreds of East Timorese.

An independent Public Service Commission was established last January 21 to oversee the selection and recruitment of East Timorese for the new civil service. The commission plans to recruit 7,000 people this year.

Foreigners, particularly Australians, own most large businesses currently operating in East Timor. Over 500 private businesses have applied for registration certificates with the UNTAET Finance, Development and Economic Affairs Department, and around 200 of them have received their certificates.

''I hope the countries which can help develop East Timor start creating job opportunities as soon as possible so that we can work,'' said Lopez, dispelling any bitterness or frustration over the present situation.

''I am not disappointed with the current situation. Whatever is happening now does not matter. What is important is that we are already independent,'' he said. (END/IPS/ap-dv/kd/ral/00)


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