Subject: SMH: UN Steps In To Help Defuse Anger Over High Unemployment

News And Features; International News UN Steps In To Help Defuse Anger Over High Unemployment By Mark Dodd

04/26/2000 Sydney Morning Herald Page 9

The East Timorese leader, Mr Xanana Gusmao, and a senior United Nations official will hold a public meeting in Dili today to discuss the the country's number one social problem unemployment.

Unemployment estimated at around 80 per cent has been the main cause of mounting protests outside the UN headquarters in Dili for several months.

Earlier this month, Mr Gusmao was called on to pacify a group of about 1,000 protesters upset that the UN could not provide work for them.

Yesterday, UN employees held a stopwork meeting over pay and conditions linked to new contracts in which salaries are paid in US dollars.

One employee claimed his pay packet had shrunk since signing the new contracts because of losses incurred when US dollars the local legal tender are exchanged for Indonesian rupiah, the preferred currency among locals.

Up to 200 UN employees, mostly drivers, are believed to be involved in the industrial action.

Locals are unfamiliar with the US dollar and complain there is no small change in circulation and few official exchange facilities.

A UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) spokeswoman, Ms Barbara Reis, said it was hoped today's meeting would clarify what job opportunities existed with the UN.

She said stolen UN job application forms were selling in the local market on the promise that once completed they were a guarantee of employment.

The UN chief of staff, Parameswaran Nagalingah, would explain what opportunities existed with the UN and how to apply, Ms Reis said.

UNTAET currently employs 1,100 East Timorese . Another 6,000 are employed by a US-funded employment project worth $US5 million ($8.4 million) which has put East Timorese to work on community clean-up projects. A similar scheme funded by Japan has hired work gangs to clear roadside verges of thick undergrowth.

But all these projects are short-term. Mr Gusmao is expected to stress that political stability and security in the capital are a prerequisite for attracting foreign investors able to offer long term employment prospects to East Timorese .New Zealand Press Association reports: A New Zealand soldier was killed in a vehicle accident in the Suai district of East Timor yesterday and three others injured. An army spokeswoman said it appeared only one vehicle was involved in the accident.

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