Subject: SMH/E.Timor: This independence celebration brought to you by ...

Sydney Morning Herald April 4, 2002

This independence celebration brought to you by ...

By Hamish McDonald

Xanana Gusmao with supporters at a election rally. Photo: AFP

It will stand on a hill overlooking Dili, the capital of newly independent East Timor: a massive flagpole entwined with the trunk and branches of a symbolic banyan tree forged in steel.

On a plaque at the base of this $200,000 independence monument will be words of thanks to its corporate sponsor: a generous Australian company, it is hoped.

For the first time ever, and perhaps appropriately for an era of event marketing, a new nation is seeking sponsorship for its independence ceremonies, which take place in Dili next month.

Australia's top executives may admire the spirit. But how many would put their company's logo on a monument to 24 years of guerilla resistance, or be otherwise associated with a nation whose emergence was so long opposed in many of Asia's lucrative markets?

There hasn't been a rush yet to sign up, say organisers of the eight-hour program of celebrations which will include the unveiling of monuments to accompany East Timor's transition to formal independence on the night of May 19.

One of the first to respond, the poker- and gaming-machine manufacturer Aristocrat, had to be politely knocked back as having the wrong look for the new, staunchly Catholic, nation.

Others included oil companies active in the Timor Sea, such as Phillips Petroleum which has put in $US250,000 ($471,280) towards the $US1.5 million program, as well as one of Australia's big banks.

Margherita Tracanelli, a longtime Timor activist who is working from NSW Premier Bob Carr's department to promote the celebrations, says a television company is still needed to help broadcast the ceremony to regional centres.

"We have been promised access to a satellite," she said. "We need someone to put some cameras at the ceremony, uplink to the satellite, and downlink to 12 towns where the pictures could be screened."

It will be a big moment when the East Timorese finally govern themselves after four centuries of Portuguese rule, 24 years of Indonesian occupation and most recently a two-year UN interim administration.

About 200,000 of East Timor's 800,000 population are expected to gather at an open area called Tacitolu, just outside Dili, to see the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, transfer power to the new East Timor president.

Independence hero Xanana Gusmao has been widely tipped to win the presidential elections on April 14.

The immense sacrifice of the past quarter century - almost 200,000 dead from war, starvation and disease - will be commemorated by inauguration of a so-called Garden of the Heroes - at a cost of $US300,000 - and the flag-tree monument.

All the East Timorese can offer in return is a warm glow, some publicity and introductions to local and visiting leaders. It's unusual, but then again East Timor didn't win independence by being conventional.

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