Subject: Age: Gusmao says riots are a cry of poverty

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Age December 7, 2002

Gusmao says riots are a cry of poverty

By Jill Jolliffe, Dili

East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao has suggested that poverty and social problems could be behind the violence that racked Dili this week.

Ahead of a meeting of East Timor's main foreign donors next week, he called for new measures to lift his country's people from poverty.

Two students were shot dead during an anti-police protest on Wednesday, triggering widespread rioting in the capital in which hotels and shops were burnt and looted.

Mr Gusmao said the social and economic problems stemmed from 1999, when Indonesian-led militias destroyed almost all the infrastructure after the independence vote. He said it was not just "little people" being left out, "but the people as a whole".

Mr Gusmao was speaking after a meeting with diplomats at which he urged countries that were financially backing East Timor to look at new solutions to the economic problems .

"Our people are farmers, yet we are importing rice from Singapore," he said. "There are some areas where some people don't even know what sort of paper a dollar note is. If we can establish cooperatives and micro-credit schemes, then they will know what a dollar is."

The answer was not to "tell people 'if you do something wrong, we'll jail you, or shoot you', it is to solve our social problems".

He said many parents did not have enough money to send their children to school.

One long-standing grievance of students, the main group involved in the riots, is university fees of $A54 a year imposed by the government. It originally imposed $180 fees but reduced them after demonstrations. East Timor's average annual income for 2001 was $857.

Mr Gusmao said he had apologised to diplomats for the burning of foreign properties, notably the Australian-owned Hello Mister supermarket.

He said he also expressed regret that some foreigners had felt it necessary to leave East Timor because of the violence.

The government announced on Thursday that it was setting up two independent inquiries.

Mr Gusmao ducked questions on the failure of local police and UN authorities to control the violence, saying the government - of which he is not a part - was "under a cloud" and only it could answer for the police. He said the two investigations would look at the UN failings.

The government will go ahead with an international donors' meeting on Monday and Tuesday, involving about 200 delegates. UN peacekeepers have now been assigned to guard all major hotels.

About 80 people, including juveniles, are being held at a special detention centre on the outskirts of Dili - ironically the site of this year's May 20 independence celebrations.

UN staff are monitoring the condition of the detainees, who can be held for only 72 hours without a court appearance.

It is doubtful that judges or legal facilities will be available to try them over the weekend.

A UN official said most had been charged with looting.

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