Subject: AFP: East Timor: raising a nation from rubble

East Timor: raising a nation from rubble

VAMASAE, East Timor, Aug 28 (AFP) - In one of the thousands of charred and gutted buildings that still scar East Timor's landscape, 200 villagers squat before the man who won a Nobel peace prize crusading for their independence, Jose Ramos Horta.

Now their interim foreign minister, Horta is imploring the people of this coastal rice plain in the half-island's central north to show the world that they can have an election without violence, which would lose any chance of the foreign investment they are crying out for.

"Those who have big money first want to see if there is peace and stability, then they will come. But that is the condition," he says.

Vamasae's people are begging for foreign capital to help them recover from the devastation that followed their last vote two years ago.

In 1999 the former Portuguese colony was razed to rubble by departing Indonesian troops and their proxy militias, after 78.5 percent of East Timorese voted to end Indonesia's 24-year occupation.

Whole towns were torched and most of the country's infrastructure and facilities destroyed.

Since then, the United Nations and a host of aid agencies have been trying to rebuild the nation at a cost of several hundred million dollars.

Multilateral lenders and 15 donor nations are footing the bill, for projects that range from restoring the electricity network to training lawyers for a new justice system.

But the reconstruction has ground to a halt in Vamasae, village head Manuelito Reis complains to Horta.

Power still has not been restored, he says. "We have a carpentry industry here, but it can't develop because we have no power," Reis says.

A foreign aid group that came last year to rebuild homes and schools stopped after fixing two houses, he adds.

Tractors donated by foreign governments have not made it to the village, so their rice production is poor. Anyway, those villages that have received the vehicles have had to pays fees for them, he says.

Reis also wants to know why the only foreign investment so far seems to be in supermarkets and restaurants for foreigners in the capital Dili, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) to the west.

"These have no benefits for us. It should be Timorese who benefit from this."

Horta replies he cannot fix the power; he pledges to investigate and appeals for patience.

"Even countries that have had their independence for 150 years are still unable to solve their poverty and improve their schools.

"You'll see in two or three years this government cannot also solve all your problems," he cautions.

"We have to invite businessmen to come to East Timor, but they can only come if here in Vamasae there is no killing or stone throwing. Otherwise, who wants to open a business here?"

A major problem, according to finance minister in the transitional cabinet, Michael Francino, is that East Timor was always a poor country.

"It's not like the reconstruction of post World War II Europe, where countries were devastated but were rich so they recovered quickly," he told

"Here we're rebuilding a poor country and sometimes we tend to forget that."

Francino prefers to call the effort one of "building" rather than rebuilding.

"You don't really want to go back to what they had before exactly," he said. "We won't rebuild many of the facilities that existed."

The mettled roads Indonesia built for its heavy military presence will not be repaired, and the large fuel and electricity subsidies that Indonesia provided will not be reinstated, he said.

"Not every school will be rebuilt, not every government building will be rebuilt. Indonesians had a very large government public service sector, the hope here is that the number can be held down."

And the rural population may not have the same electrical service as before: it will have decide whether to spend money on pricey power, or on other priorities, like improved education or health.

"East Timor will build a different East Timor," he said.


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