Subject: AFR: Wealth divide behind Timor Violence

Wealth divide behind Timor violence Dec 6 Tim Dodd in Jakarta

Australian Financial Review

UN administrator Sergio de Mello, who ran East Timor for 2 1/2 years until its independence in May this year, believes the country's 30-year history of violence is the main factor behind this week's riots. At least one person died and dozens of buildings were damaged or burnt in the capital Dili.

But it seems clear the violent legacy of the Indonesian invasion and occupation is only one factor behind this week's destruction.

East Timor's main problem is its large, under-employed, poorly educated, youthful population a vast pool of people who have little to do and who had unrealistic expectations of the economic benefits that independence would bring.

Six months after independence, they are still idle but see wealth apparently being accumulated by the country's new political elite. They continue to be on the wrong side of East Timor's dual economy - one for rich, foreign military and aid workers and another for poverty-stricken East Timorese.

Adding to the sense of disenfranchisement is the government decision - made by the Lusophile elite like Alkatiri who sat out the Indonesian occupation in Portugal - to make Portuguese the official language, meaning that fluency is a practical necessary for getting a good government job.

To the poor job-seeking youth, whose first language is Bahasa Indonesia, it is an insult.

To be fair to East Timor's new government these problems are enormously difficult to solve, but unfortunately the government's approach just makes them worse.

The UN, while it was in charge, did little to try to nip these particular problems in the bud. Afraid to overrule the East Timorese elite, it did not try to change the decision on the Portuguese language, which locks about 90 per cent of the population out of government decision-making and is a barrier to even seeking justice in the courts.

Nor did the UN, working in its highly bureaucratic way, see any problem in paying large allowances of over $US100 ($180) a day to foreign soldiers and aid workers, setting high lifestyle expectations for a new East Timorese elite.

This week's riot is the first clear indication that East Timor, the country the UN has been proud to claim a success, is really a potential time bomb.

Let's hope that the Alkatiri government's inquiry into the causes of the riots add resses the issues honestly and that it leads to real changes of policy. Certainly it is not good enough to just blame the country's violent past.


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