Subject: NPR transcript: U.N. Efforts To Rebuild East Timor

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National Public Radio (NPR) transcript Morning Edition news (11:00 AM ET) Monday, July 10, 2000 [broadcast on hundreds of NPR-affiliated radio stations in US]





East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in August last year. Pro- Indonesia militias, allegedly backed by the Indonesian military, then wrecked the country's economic infrastructure, burning almost all buildings and disabling factories. The United Nations is administering East Timor until independence. The UN has made progress in rebuilding the shattered economy over the last eight months, but it's coming under increasing criticism.

Reese Erlich reports from Dili.

REESE ERLICH reporting:

On a busy street outside a newly refurbished UN headquarters building, Cipriani Didiuse(ph) survives by selling soft drinks to UN employees.

Mr. CIPRIANI DIDIUSE (East Timor Resident): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of street noise)

ERLICH: The former hotel worker fled to the hills last September when pro-Indonesian militia burned most of Dili and massacred hundreds. When Didiuse returned, he had neither a home nor a job.

Mr. DIDIUSE: (Through Translator) When they came back, the hotel, his former place of employment, had new owners and they were the ones that told him that they already have other employees.

ERLICH: So none of the other employees got their jobs back?

Mr. DIDIUSE: (Through Translator) No.

ERLICH: The plight of Didiuse is typical of the massive economic dislocation in East Timor. Unemployment is estimated as high as 80 percent, although no one knows for sure. That's in part because the Indonesians carted off all the public records; property deeds, court records, factory blueprints, everything an economy needs to function.

Nevertheless, after eight months, the UN can boast of some successes, including provision of emergency food and medical care. The UN has restored intermittent electric power, water and port facilities. Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor--or UNTAET--says the process of economic reconstruction has been difficult.

Mr. SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO (UN Transitional Administration for East Timor): There are many complaints that the international community and ourselves have been slow. They are understandable. They are justified from the Timorese perspective. But when we explain to them how easy it is to destroy but how difficult and time consuming it is to build--not rebuild, to build new infrastructure, they understand.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine)

ERLICH: As one drives from the UN headquarters in Dili into the surrounding hills where the coffee and casaba farmers live, the pace of life slows. So does the pace of rebuilding.

(Soundbite of people walking)

ERLICH: UNTAET humanitarian affairs officer Ranier Frauernfeld(ph) meets guests in front of a refurbished house that serves as the local UN headquarters. He says the Indonesian military destroyed houses here, too, along with public buildings and farm equipment. To prevent total economic collapse, UNTAET sponsored temporary employment programs, or TEPs, which employ a total of 12,000 Timorese for two weeks at a time.

Mr. RANIER FRAUERNFELD (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, UNTAET): The idea is to inject financial resources into the economy quickly, employ people and rehabilitate local infrastructure. We're doing road clearing--road cleaning. TEPs is the only thing that really puts money into the community straight away. And I think it's great for that.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing; dogs barking)

ERLICH: Farmer Evorista de Silva(ph) worked on the TEPs public works project. He appreciates the two weeks pay, but says the area needs longer-term development.

Mr. EVORISTA de SILVA (East Timorese Farmer): (Through Translator) We'd like UNTAET to spend money on educating our people so that they're better prepared for the future and not just to spend money on clearing the roadsides. We're already very good at that.

ERLICH: UNTAET does want to initiate bigger projects, but local administrator Frauernfeld says the headquarters in Dili doesn't always understand conditions outside of the capital. UNTAET wanted to rebuild the open-air market here, for example, but it would have drained the entire budget for the whole district. Local Timorese didn't agree with that priority. Frauernfeld says the project was canceled.

Mr. FRAUERNFELD: What we need is involving people at the local level, people from the communities into building their own government system. We need to put it fast because we end up having problems otherwise.

ERLICH: UNTAET and international agencies are sponsoring construction efforts that will involve local decision makers as well as provide jobs. They plan a massive effort to rebuild the nation's schools in time for the beginning of classes in October, according to Sarah Cliffe, who heads the World Bank in Dili.

Ms. SARAH CLIFFE (World Bank, Dili): Of the first programs which we've put through, over 80 percent of the investment is going directly into rural areas. In the education program, for example, school councils and principals will be given materials and cash to be able to mobilize local employment to get the schools up and running again. That would include both skilled employment, carpenters and other artisans and unskilled jobs.

ERLICH: Creating jobs, rebuilding the economy, getting children back in school are just the beginning. UN officials also face major challenges trying to re-establish health care and other social services across this tiny island nation. UN administrators hope that much of the physical and social infrastructure will be rebuilt by next year in time for parliamentary elections, a critical event in East Timor's transition to full independence. For National Public Radio, I'm Reese Erlich in Dili, East Timor.

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