Subject: SMH/E.Timor: Signs of Progress Emerge From Rubble

Sydney Morning Herald May 6, 2000

Signs of progress emerge from rubble

The UN has made solid progress despite early snags, but problems persist, reports Herald Correspondent Mark Dodd in Dili.

Along the roads winding up into East Timor's highlands or meandering along the pristine coastline, the sound of nails being hammered into timber is becoming as familiar as the sight of shiny roofing iron replacing weathered sheets of blue emergency plastic.

More than seven months after local militia members and their Indonesian military backers rampaged through Dili and beyond on a binge of murder, looting and destruction, most of East Timor's 800,000 population can report some progress in rebuilding their lives.

In towns and villages stockpiles of imported timber and galvanised sheeting are a common sight, as the tiny half-island territory embarks on a construction frenzy. Is it time to give the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) a pat on the back?

The timber comes from Indonesia, so the country whose security forces allowed the destruction to occur in the first place has been rewarded with multi-million-dollar contracts. UNTAET justifies the purchase by the UN refugee agency, its sister organisation, on economic grounds.

East Timor, May 5, 2000: one year after the landmark agreement paving the way for a UN-supervised vote on self-determination, the Indonesians have gone and so has the much praised Australian-led International Force in East Timor that oversaw their departure.

The devastated territory is now administered by a Brazilian diplomat, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, a seasoned UN veteran who recently declared an end to the emergency phase of the operation.

Mr Vieira de Mello's team costs about $A1.2 billion a year to run, and employs an 8,200-strong peacekeeping force. Add to that 580 international staff - more than a handful of whom might be said to be of dubious qualification and motivation - an under-strength civilian police force (Civpol) of 1,100, mostly male officers, about 200 UN volunteers and 1,400 local employees, several hundred of whom are on strike.

Facing mass unemployment, East Timorese have pressed the UN to employ more locals through increasingly angry protests. Last week, about 200 local staff went on strike over pay and conditions.

Even the future of UNTAET's top officials has become the subject of debate. Several diplomats said the ambitious and talented Mr de Mello might well leave before the end of the mission.

One man he would like to see leave is his chief of police, Mr Carlos Lima, a Portuguese whose performance to date has been judged by his own senior officers as mediocre.

In its four months of operation, internal disputes, bureaucratic wrangling and power plays have hindered progress, but there is no denying the UN mission can claim marked improvements in human rights, police training, access to education, public health, electricity, water, roads, telecommunications, security and even law and order.

"There have been many achievements, things you don't see but without which nothing could go forward," an UNTAET spokeswoman, Ms Barbara Reis, said.

The perception that not much is happening is shared not only by the CNRT grouping that struggled for independence, but also a growing number of disenchanted UN employees.

Publicly, the independence leader, Mr Xanana Gusmao, praises Mr Vieira de Mello. Yet senior CNRT officials say that he is losing patience with other UN officials. He and his Nobel laureate colleague Mr Jose Ramos Horta want more East Timorese involvement in the transitional process.

Outside Dili, it is the same story. UNTAET headquarters was too unresponsive to districts' needs, complained one senior UN official in south-western Suai who asked not to be named. The official queried the competence of UN staff after the appointment of a third district administrator in almost as many months.

Choking bureaucracy is a factor holding back reconstruction in Suai, probably the district hardest hit by militia violence last September.

The number of four-wheel-drive vehicles parked outside UNTAET's Dili headquarters gives the impression of an off-road convention. Yet in far-flung regions where roads are disintegrating by the day, two Civpol detectives investigating 500 murders and several hundred militia-related rapes have to share three 4WD vehicles with 17 police colleagues. Their assessment of UNTAET's priorities is unprintable.

A program funded by the World Bank that began in February has placed 160,000 children in classrooms in about 660 primary schools in all 13 districts.

The September violence hit schools hard. The UN Children's Fund estimates that 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed or damaged, with equipment looted or burnt. At least 80 per cent of the 2,000 secondary school teachers, mostly Indonesian, fled to West Timor and have not returned.

Universities remain closed while the Catholic Church struggles to plug the gap in secondary education.

Portugal is likely to fund construction of new secondary schools while pushing for the language of instruction to be Portuguese - not a popular decision among all the territory's students.

Law enforcement is becoming a popular profession. More than 12,000 applications were received from East Timorese who wanted to join the new police service, although only 150 were selected for the first training class. The UN plans to train 3,000 East Timorese police officers within three years.

They will have their work cut out. Crime is rife, from knife attacks, muggings and public disorder to petty theft and extortion. Jails are filled to capacity with murderers while East Timor's new courts have yet to hold a single trial. A new Canadian deputy police chief, fresh from Bosnia, promises change for the better.

The telephone system is working again, and East Timor has an international dialling code.

And the fledgling Border Control Service has assessed more than $A1 million in customs duties in its first month of operation - a long way from economic self-sufficiency, but a start.

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