Subject: New York Times Editorial: Stumbling Efforts in East Timor

The New York Times April 29, 2000 [today's lead editorial]


Stumbling Efforts in East Timor

In East Timor, where pro-Indonesian militias went on a rampage last summer, the United Nations has taken on an ambitious reconstruction mission with inadequate means. Not surprisingly, the results to date have been disappointing. Unless faster progress can be achieved in creating jobs, resettling refugees and establishing the rule of law, there is a serious risk of new violence.

International peacekeepers belatedly put a stop to the violence, which came after the East Timorese voted for independence. But by the time U.N. administrators moved in six months ago, conditions were desperate. Pro-Jakarta militias had burned much of the territory's housing and destroyed its agricultural economy. The abrupt withdrawal of Indonesian civil servants left East Timor without police, teachers and other essential services.

Since then the U.N. has made only modest progress. Some schools have been reopened, although they still lack trained teachers. Emergency medical and dental clinics have been established, many of them staffed by private relief agencies. But a staggering 80 percent of East Timor's 800,000 people still have no work, and nearly 100,000 remain in refugee camps across the Indonesian frontier. There is no functioning police force or courts, no reliable water, power or transportation systems.

The chief U.N. administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has been hampered by an inadequate budget, unrealistic staff ceilings and the slowness of donor nations in providing the funds and volunteers they have promised for Timor's reconstruction. Of more than $500 million pledged late last year, only $40 million has been delivered. Washington has so far sent about $8 million of the $13 million it promised for U.N. and World Bank reconstruction efforts. Donor nations have been slow in providing the local governance experts the U.N. needs.

These problems have been magnified by the workings of the notoriously slow U.N. bureaucracy and the U.N. mission's reluctance to give more responsibility to local residents. If the rebuilding effort continues to lag in the months ahead, Jakarta could be tempted to exploit the continuing poverty and chaos, launching new military forays from Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

Last summer's violence in East Timor galvanized international attention and action. That commitment must now be sustained with adequate resources and a renewed sense of urgency.

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