Subject: Le Monde diplomatique: Starting Over In East Timor 
Date: Sun, 14 May 2000

Le Monde diplomatique May 2000


Starting over in East Timor

The campaign of terror launched last September, after 78.5% of East Timorese had voted for independence, was the last in a long chain of violence that has claimed 200,000 victims. This time it has left at least 1,000 dead. As a result of the scorched earth policy of army and militias, East Timor has been devastated. The local authorities and the UN's provisional administration (Untaet) are now trying to get the country back on its feet.

by our special correspondent ROLAND-PIERRE PARINGAUX *

The mountainous district of Viqueque in the southeast of the island is not the most badly affected of the 13 districts of devastated East Timor. Bastion of the resistance of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) and its armed branch, Falantil, this region of 65,000 inhabitants came off more lightly than most in the fire-raising frenzy of the militias (1). Viqueque had only 1,500 public buildings and homes were burnt down. It is also one of the few districts to be self-sufficient in rice.

But the situation is far from good. For several months everyone was given emergency food aid. The aid has now been cut back, even though in early April it was still crucial to thousands of people. Just as crucial are materials to rebuild destroyed villages and schools, and survival kits that provide many displaced persons with their only shelter. What few social services remain are dependent on the generosity of foreign non-governmental organisations and local donors. There is aid from Unicef, but the lack of teachers, educational materials and pay is still cause for concern. Medical cover, provided by two Australians from Médecins Sans Frontières, is also inadequate. And the only tarmac road - a vital link with the rest of the country - is being gradually washed away. Infrastructure is suffering from a combination of age-old neglect and recent destruction. And the whole country is caught between emergency aid and long-term development.

Disputes exacerbated by recent events are compounding these problems. In Viqueque, a highly-regarded pro-independence party has been accused of pillaging former Indonesian police barracks. Elsewhere an outspoken local dignitary declares himself opposed to the return of the militiamen and other collaborators who fled with the Indonesians. Village life in Uato Lari is being disrupted by a land dispute between supporters of a pro-Indonesian party, the Popular Democratic Association of East Timor (Apodeti), and Fretilin supporters. Throughout the island, there are similar squabbles over ownership of land that has changed hands as a result of political events. On top of it, Viqueque is also seeing an upsurge in crime.

United Nations administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello urges a welcoming crowd that hangs on his every word to be tolerant and show initiative: "This is not a new colonial set-up. We are here to help you. We take decisions in consultation with your leaders." He stresses the need for justice and national reconciliation, for rejecting "a culture of violence handed down by the Indonesians", and for encouraging women to take part in public life. "Much has been achieved over the past six months. But there is still a great deal to be done. We hold the purse strings, but it is up to you to submit proposals and take charge of your own future."

For the time being the fate of Viqueque, like the rest of the island, is in the hands of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet). Here, there are a dozen international civil servants answerable to Simon Ogouma of Benin, 43 police officers from the civilian police force, CivPol, as well as 150 Blue Helmets from the Thai army. They are responsible for maintaining law and order and day-to-day administration and work with the local authorities: the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), a coalition of pro-independence parties, and the influential Catholic Church. There is a lot of goodwill, but also some impatience. It is taking a long time to finalise economic development projects; unemployment is endemic and students educated at Indonesian universities are unsure what the future holds. There are obvious problems of communication between people who speak the local language, Tetum, and foreigners from all over the world who sometimes have difficulty communicating with each other.

So it is no surprise that Vieira de Mello also urges his audience to be realistic and patient. They certainly need to be. As well as the country's huge liabilities, all the delays and problems leave many Timorese feeling their hopes of a rapidly improved standard of living were exaggerated. Not to say illusory.

Viqueque is suffering the legacy of four centuries of Portuguese colonisation and 25 years of Indonesian occupation. And the situation is often far worse in other districts. In Bobonaro, Cova Lima, Liquica, Ainaro and Oecussi, situated close to the island's frontier with Indonesia, for example. And indeed, in the capital, Dili, three-quarters of which was laid waste. Nor should we forget the quarter of a century East Timor spent under Suharto (2). During that period, UN resolutions calling for Indonesia to withdraw remained a dead letter, and Timorese opposed to the annexation were ruthlessly repressed (3). As a result, a whole generation has been destroyed and another "Indonesianised"; and the island has remained in a state of underdevelopment and illiteracy (4).

Last September this sad state of affairs culminated in the frenzy of burning we all know about. In addition to the thousands of fires and the destruction and pillage that followed the massive pro-independence vote, in late August, huge numbers of people were displaced. Seven hundred thousand of a population of 830,000 were affected to varying degrees; and 250,000 sought refuge in West Timor, the Indonesian half of the island. As a result of this scorched earth policy, public services, infrastructure and economy collapsed completely. One expert estimates that 80% of the population was displaced and left destitute.

Enter the UN

That was the desperate situation in which the UN Security Council finally decided to act. First, it authorised the International Force in East Timor (Interfet) on 15 September. Then, in Resolution 1272 of 25 October, it set up Untaet for an initial period extending to January 2001.

Interfet, led by Australians, was designed to restore peace and facilitate the provision of emergency aid. Untaet's mandate was get the country back on its feet. Once authority had been transferred from Portugal and Indonesia to the UN, Untaet was mandated provisionally to administer the former colony and reconstruct its political life, administration and economy. The aim was to provide the Timorese with the foundations of a viable democratic state and the instruments crucial to its functioning within three years. Canadian political adviser Colin Stewart puts it this way: "Against a background of disaster and a still fragile peace, we have to ensure that the country can operate on a day-to-day basis and lay the foundations for the future, to enable the Timorese to take control within an acceptable time-frame". In this instance at least, in contrast to Kosovo, the international community has clearly stated the aim of bringing the country to independence within two to three years.

The Security Council was anxious to tread carefully with Indonesia, with the result that its decisions came too late. Nonetheless Untaet has been given substantial resources. With executive and legislative authority, the transitional administration actually has governmental powers. Vieira de Mello, who heads the administration, is a Brazilian and also a UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. A diplomat with a great deal of experience on the ground, the bulk of his career has been spent at the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). His earlier responsibilities included a UN operation in Cambodia in the early 1990s, somewhat similar to the current mission in East Timor. Last year he also set under way the UN interim mission in Kosovo before handing over to Bernard Kouchner.

Since November, the administrator and his "government" have been installed in the former residence of the Indonesian governor, a long white building in central Dili, looking out to sea. The headquarters can accommodate the civil administration, military and police, answerable to the governor and deployed throughout the island. There are a total of 400 officials and international experts; 8,000 Blue Helmets from about 20 countries, mainly Asia and the Pacific; 700 international police officers in the civilian police force (CivPol), including a large African contingent; and 850 local staff - about 10,000 people in all. Also present - to complete the picture - are the other UN agencies as well as dozens of local and international NGOs.

To get Untaet up and running, the donor countries met last December in Tokyo and agreed to disburse $522m over a three-year period ($149m for humanitarian purposes and $373m for administration, reconstruction and development). The main donors providing funding, soldiers and know-how are Japan, Australia, Portugal and New Zealand, but also the United States, Germany and Canada. (France and the European Union as such have little input).

The priorities - humanitarian assistance, improved security, a civil administration and economic recovery - were defined from the outset in close cooperation with the Timorese leadership within the CNRT, the coalition of parties led by Xanana Gusmão, the long-standing and charismatic leader of Fretilin. Its vice-president is José Ramos Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 along with the bishop of Dili, Monsignor Carlos Belo (5). A variety of consultative mechanisms have been developed to involve the Timorese in the country's administration. The most important, the National Consultative Council (CNC), has 15 members: seven from the CNRT, one representative of the Catholic Church, three former supporters of autonomy, and four representatives of Untaet, including Vieira de Mello. This is a vital institution that has adopted measures governing the operation of the provisional administration.

According to Vieira de Mello, "the CNC reflects Untaet's basic philosophy, namely that its job is not so much that of an administration appointed to govern as that of joint architects, responsible for setting up, with the East Timorese, a national administration capable of serving the country long after Untaet's departure."

Six months later, what has become of this initiative? In February Vieira de Mello told the Security Council that progress in constructing its "main pillars" would define how successful Untaet had been in terms of people's high expectations and its ambitious and unprecedented Security Council mandate.

On the humanitarian side, since last September a total of 15,000 tons of food and 28,000 tons of building materials had been distributed to a large part of the population. In a second phase, aid is becoming more selective as the situation improves. Meanwhile, the UNHCR has organised the return of some 150,000 of the 250,000 Timorese refugees in the Indonesian sector of the island and distributed 35,000 emergency shelters. The US organisation Care and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have built or rebuilt more than 1,500 homes in six districts.

Patchy return to security

The security aspect is closely bound up with the process of national reconciliation and the normalisation of relations with Indonesia. Here the picture is uneven. Interfet fulfilled its mission to general satisfaction and handed over to the UN forces at the end of February. Almost all of the country is at peace. But there is still the problem of the militias. They have taken refuge in West Timor and are still capable of causing a great deal of trouble. In early March, Indonesian President Abdurrahaman Wahid's visit to Dili, as part of the process of normalising bilateral relations, was used as a pretext for renewed militia attacks on East Timor.

Vieira de Mello did not gloss over this "gross violation of the spirit and letter of our agreements with Indonesia". His director of Political Affairs, US diplomat Peter Galbraith, and the Filipino commander of the Blue Helmets, General de Los Santos, were sent to Jakarta to protest to the foreign ministry and show, with evidence to support their claim, that Indonesian soldiers had been involved in the affair (6). The two men called for specific measures to bring an end to the situation. These included sanctions against the militiamen responsible, the transfer of officers involved and, above all, the disarming of the militias and closure of the camps to which they retreat with impunity after sowing terror in East Timor. The governor of Jakarta undertook to do all in his power. But that did not stop the attacks continuing for ten days or so.

As far as Gusmão and Ramos Horta are concerned, the facts speak for themselves. As Ramos Horta points out: "Without the Indonesians, the militiamen would not be able to do anything - they have neither popular nor financial support". But he does not believe the situation should "be overdramatised, since the Jakarta government and President Wahid have given undertakings. It is in their interest to bring to an end the attacks that are damaging to their image and, though designed to destabilise East Timor, are in fact likely to destabilise West Timor." The fact remains that it is not easy for the Indonesian president to bring the militiamen to heel.

At the beginning of April the tensions seemed to be abating and giving way to a desire for reconciliation. Untaet officials negotiated with some militia chiefs the conditions for a return to East Timor and the price of reconciliation: the prosecution of crimes of violence and community work for arson. In return, the militiamen were given an assurance that they would not be subject to the kind of revenge attacks that have already taken place. Those with fairly clear consciences should be able to return soon. Others with blood on their hands will probably stay in Indonesia.

Another security concern is the rise in crime linked to recent events but also the widespread unemployment. The situation is made more complicated by the lack of a Timorese police force, a judiciary and a prison system. With the best will in the world, the limits on CivPol's effectiveness are soon apparent. It is not that easy for a Senegalese, Jordanian, Argentinian or Nepalese police officer - to mention only those encountered in Viqueque - to deal with an environment that is culturally, linguistically and conceptually so alien.

The lack of trained staff and proper infrastructure is the reason behind the priority accorded to the other "main pillar": the creation of an administration with its own civil service and infrastructure. In Dili, several dozen experts have been busy for months in a buzzing, circular meeting room known as the hive. Chaired by a French prefect, Jean-Christian Cady, number two in the provisional administration, they are using a number of different models to concoct the basic elements of a democratic administration. With what kind of political system in mind? That will be for those elected to the administration to decide. "We are neutral technicians, not politicians, and we are putting in place the minimum structures that will enable democracy to get firmly established", is the cautious response of territorial administrator, Jesudas Bell.

Everything or practically everything - public service, legal system, infrastructures, agriculture and financial system - is having to be created or recreated. And where, because of international assistance, some sectors, like education and health, are less badly off than others, there is still a shortage of doctors, teachers and technicians. Under Indonesian rule, there was an administration of 27,000 strong, most of them Timorese. But many fled East Timor with the militias. The bureaucracy was also excessive and known to be corrupt. Cady is currently envisaging an administration that is "competent, transparent and independent of the political authority". And limited to a staff of 13,000.

Initial recruitment began in late March. The aim is to select 7,000 applicants this year and begin training them. Possibly including members of the former administration? First they must come back, is the response. Then they, like all other applicants, will be subject to a selection procedure.

Given the circumstances, particular efforts are being devoted to the police and the judiciary - areas in which the Portuguese and Indonesians had kept the upper hand. Timorese lawyers and judges have never before been able to practise. In January an initial group of eight judges and four public prosecutors were sworn in after intensive training. About 20 others are on the waiting list. In late March it was announced that a special tribunal was to be set up in Dili. For practical reasons, the legislation in force is still, for the present, Indonesian law, "modified by the international instruments on human rights".

As far as the police are concerned, an initial recruitment drive netted 12,000 applicants. With the help of foreign experts, Untaet is hoping to train 3,000 policemen by 2003, at a rate of 300 cadets every four months. When it comes to prison management, there is not much to be said. There is just one detention centre in Dili, capable of housing 50 prisoners. Lack of space means that the majority of criminals are left at liberty.

Last pillar, but not least

The last, but by no means least of the main pillars is economic development. Urgent action is needed here, as the vast majority of Timorese have no job and no income. This is a predominantly agricultural economy that has traditionally lacked resources, except for coffee. Now the humanitarian armada has become - by far - the main employer of Timorese, providing some 3,000 junior posts: security guards, drivers and orderlies, for example. Several thousand tons of seed have been distributed in an effort to kick-start agricultural production. Untaet is launching temporary "quick impact" projects (civil engineering and infrastructure repair).

Meanwhile the World Bank is preparing to finance community development teams in the districts with responsibility for allocating funds (from $15,000 to $100,000) on an individual project basis. Twenty-one million dollars have been earmarked for this. In the private sector, the process of recovery is slow. Five hundred applications to open businesses have been registered and two banks, one Portuguese and one Australian, have opened branches. All in all, not much of a result. There remains the hope of an oil boom. Together with Canberra and Jakarta, Untaet is reviewing an oil extraction treaty covering a maritime sector called the Timor Gap. When it was being negotiated, the Australians, who had recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, got the lion's share. According to Galbraith, who is conducting the negotiations for Untaet, "it is quite possible that in a few years time East Timor will be in receipt of royalties to fund part of its budget".

The transitional administration has not been idle since last October. Everyone welcomes that. "There has been barely an incident in the past six months", according to Ramos Horta, for whom "that kind of understanding between the people, their leaders and the UN is quite unprecedented". Like many others, he is aware of how much that state of affairs is the result of the partnership between Vieira de Mello and Gusmão. And also of a favourable political climate. One diplomat says "the political environment is quite good. The people are backing the aim of independence. Having a moderate and cooperative leadership has enabled us to make progress on the big issues. The desire for national reconciliation exists, and the Indonesian government is in favour of good relations. It would be hard to do better."

But victory is not in the bag. Some Timorese are becoming increasingly impatient and frustrated - for several reasons. First of all, the work done so far by Untaet and the CNRT is hardly visible from the outside and requires primarily foreign input. That led Nino Pereira, secretary-general of the students' union, to say in March: "We have seen no significant progress since October. With Untaet it is always next month. All the business is being done between foreigners. So far, the Timorese have not been given more responsibilities." All too apparent to Pereira, in contrast, is the omnipresent humanitarian armada, with its four-wheel drives, its dollars and its appetite. All of which make for an artificial effect on the economy and a "negative impact" on society.

Moreover, the promised funding and projects are slow to materialise. In March UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that only $22m of the $522m promised in December had reached the funds set up for the purpose. And the UN operation is highlighting the gaps between aspirations and reality, needs and skills and the generation gap. Timorese hopes of finding a job are always thwarted by the lack of qualifications. The paradox, as a humanitarian agency official points out, is that "the political will to move things forward exists as never before in a UN mission. Unfortunately, the human skills to put this into practice are sadly lacking. And so we call on others, Australians for example. That makes the Timorese still more frustrated. But what is the alternative if we want to make progress?"

The CNRT faces similar problems. Young people who for the past 25 years have known only Indonesia, its language, its universities and its currency find it hard to identify with their elders who cling to colonial values like the Portuguese language and the escudo. Young people praise the "heroes" of the liberation struggle. But they are worried about old-fangled leaders they don't consider up to the challenges of future. They also suspect them of devising a made-to-measure regime with foreign connivance. According to Pereira, these young people are keen "to take their future into their own hands" and to give their views on the major political issues. What kind of government, what sort of constitution and what kind of elected representatives is East Timor going to have? They are going to have to wait a little longer. Until there is a basic state structure, an electoral system and national reconciliation, politics have been put on ice. It would be "premature" and "risky" to open the Pandora's box of political parties at this stage. "But if all goes according to plan, it could be feasible six months from now, provided we take it one step at a time", says one of Vieira de Mello's advisers.

On several occasions this impatience and frustration has provoked demonstrations of dissatisfaction outside the Untaet headquarters. The transitional administration knows this is inevitable in the circumstances. As for the CNRT, despite the disaffection of some young people, it is not about to lose its popular support. Together with the local armed forces (Falintil) and the Catholic Church, it forms a kind of sacred union with a firm grip on the country. Ramos Horta gets angry when doubt is cast on the "viability" of East Timor. He claims his country is no less viable than some 30 others with a comparable population and land area. And he adds - not without a touch of irony - "These days it is actually the big units like Indonesia whose viability must be questioned". As far as the Timorese are concerned, the question simply does not arise. _________________________________________________________________

* Journalist

(1) When the Portuguese left in 1975, there were three political parties: the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) that supported gradual autonomy; the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), that backed immediate independence, and the Popular Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti) that supported integration with Indonesia, but was very much a minority party. Fretilin's victory in the March 1975 elections marked the start of Indonesian interference in East Timor.

(2) See Noam Chomsky, "East Timor, horror and amnesia", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, October 1999.

(3) The number of deaths varies, according to the different sources, from tens of thousands to Amnesty International's 200,000.

(4) According to the UN, 80% of the population were living in poverty in 1994; according to the World Bank, 50% are illiterate.

(5) See Sylvain Desmille, "Timor's trio of resistance", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, October 1999.

(6) See Romain Bertrand, "Indonesian Army plc", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, October 1999.

Translated by Julie Stoker

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