Subject: World Bank urges donors to meet East Timor promises

World Bank urges donors to meet East Timor promises

By Gary Cox

CANBERRA, June 13 (Reuters) - The World Bank called on the international community on Wednesday to meet promises of aid to impoverished East Timor as it struggles to rebuild for future independence after being laid to waste by Indonesian militias.

Donors from around the world pledged $170 million in aid after pro-Jakarta mobs went on the rampage, killing up to 1,000 people and devastating towns, following a vote for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

Most of the money, which will be spent rebuilding roads, hospitals and schools, was expected to arrive by late June.

But the World Bank is now concerned that donor nations may drag their heels over the remainder as the East Timor crisis recedes further from world attention.

"Now we must target the remaining pledges that still need to materialise," the World Bank's director in East Asia and the Pacific, Klaus Rohland, told Reuters on the eve of a two-day conference of East Timor donors in Canberra.

"We hope (the donations) come up over the next six to eight months because we want to make sure at the time of independence, we've left the country with a set of programmes that provide a sound basis for future economic and social development."

The former Portuguese colony, which suffered 23 years of often brutal Jakarta rule before its U.N.-run referendum, is one of the world's poorest territories. It has high unemployment, a dearth of skilled personnel and an army of homeless.


Coffee is the only cash crop produced by the U.N.-run nation-in-the making.

The country is currently locked in talks with Australia over splitting petroleum revenues from a disputed oil and gas area of the Timor Sea with a deal expected by the year end.

The revenues were to be split with Indonesia before the independence vote. A new agreement, which could give East Timor up to 85 percent of funds, would give East Timor significant resources by 2005, officials say.

"That means that East Timor will be able to stand on its own two feet," U.N. development coordinator Finn Reske-Nielsen said.

For the moment, however, Reske-Nielsen said East Timor was still a developing country and continued international help was absolutely necessary.

"There is a danger that East Timor could drop off the radar ... with many demands on donors with many crises around the world. But East Timor ... is a special case because their country was literally burned to the ground," Reske-Nielsen said.

"Once an item is off the agenda there is a tendency by member states to become a bit lazy in coming through with the funds," a U.N. spokeswoman told Reuters.

U.N. workers hoped that the donors' conference in Canberra -- the fourth such meeting in two years -- would refresh commitment to East Timor as it prepares for independence in 2002.

East Timor goes to the polls on August 30 for its first democratic elections.

The list of donors contributing to a World Bank-administered Trust Fund for East Timor (TFET) are the United States, Australia, Japan, Portugal, Norway, Britain, Ireland, Finland, New Zealand, and the European Commission.

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