Subject: SMH: Sceptical Timorese deliver healthy warning to leaders

Sydney Morning Herald July 19, 2001

Sceptical Timorese deliver healthy warning to leaders

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Viqueque

East Timorese voters have sent their political leaders a strong message to end violence and work towards improving living standards and social services.

The message was conveyed on Tuesday when the UN transitional administrator in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, accompanied by 12 party leaders, visited the troubled districts of Viqueque and Los Palos.

At gatherings in the two towns, Mr Vieira de Mello and the politicians came under intense questioning by residents seeking guarantees there would be no violence in the run-up to the August 30 election for a constituent assembly.

"It's a warning also and I think a very healthy warning from the voters to political parties, in the sense they will not tolerate any forms of violence, any deviation from the pact of national unity," Mr Vieira de Mello said.

People in these two impoverished eastern districts welcomed a pact of national unity committing political parties to non-violence during the election campaign but expressed strong doubts about the sincerity of the pledge.

Speaking before a wary crowd of 500 in Viqueque, Mr Vieira de Mello sought to explain the importance of the elections. "The 88 members [of the constituent assembly] will write the constitution for East Timor. Without a constitution you are not a state, you are not a country and you are not independent," he said.

Viqueque, once a flourishing agricultural town on the south-east coast, was badly affected by militia violence in 1999 while gang violence last March left two people killed and dozens of homes destroyed.

"I appreciate the civic education and I will make a decision who to vote for. The Pact of National Unity was important. Now you [MPs] can all go," said one local, attracting loud laughter.

Mr Vieira de Mello and the MPs were questioned on policies for roads, schools, hospitals, and employment opportunities. How transparent are recruitment procedures for senior public servants? Why the sudden switch to US dollars?

People "are very angry and worried about these issues and they want their politicians to be sincere", said Mr Domingos de Oliveira, general secretary of the Timorese Democratic Union, one of the politicians on the trip.

"They also want all MPs to go into the small villages and explain their policies on education, health and community development."

Mr Eric Hubbard, a UN civic education official based in Viqueque, said fear and anxiety was widespread.But dissatisfaction about poor living standards was also turning into anger, fertile ground for rabble rousers.

"One zone chief told me: 'We have to drink contaminated water and you [UN official] drink bottled water. We have to walk everywhere but you can drive a car'," he said.

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