Subject: SMH: Australian to sue UN in land row

Sydney Morning Herald June 25, 2001

Australian to sue UN in land row

An Australian businessman whose land was taken after a ruling by an East Timorese court will sue the United Nations for damages.

Last May, the Dili District Court ordered Mr Gino Favaro, owner of the Dili Hotel, to forfeit ownership of an adjacent block after a heritage claim to the property by an East Timorese woman was upheld.

This was despite the Favaro family holding a title deed to the land issued by the former Portuguese colonial government in 1971, a document recognised by the Indonesian Government as late as 1998.

On Friday, the order was enforced and earthmoving machines under the supervision of UN-appointed court officials levelled the block, a prime seafront property.

Mr Favaro says he will seek damages of "several million dollars" from the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

The ruling has prompted claims of bias against foreigners living in East Timor and has implications for future foreign investment.

"This is a very bad signal to foreign investors," Mr Favaro said. "If this can happen to me, and I've been involved in East Timor for more than 30 years, what chance has anyone else got?"

The new owner of his land is a former Indonesian army sergeant, Mr Julio Soares, whose wife, Ms Helena Maria Araujo Barros, claimed it on the basis of family heritage.

The ruling also opens up a potential quagmire of overlapping claims to land and property by traditional owners and those with title deeds issued by Portugal and Indonesia.

UNTAET's land and property department has failed for 18 months to resolve the land ownership issue and has passed the problem on to a future East Timor government.

Mark Dodd

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