Subject: AFP: Gusmao urges donors to keep up aid flow to East Timor

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Date: 4 Jun 2003

Gusmao urges donors to keep up aid flow to East Timor

DILI, June 4 (AFP) - President Xanana Gusmao urged international development partners on Tuesday to continue backing East Timor as the world's newest nation struggles to pull its people out of poverty.

"This is no time for our development partners to ease their support to the pressing needs of our country," Gusmao said in a speech opening a two-day meeting co-sponsored by the World Bank.

He said the independence achieved on May 20 last year brought obligations for East Timorese as well as rights.

"From the top to the grassroots, we have to transform our mindset of waiting for 'manna' from the donors and the government and start to take control of our lives, our development and our destiny," Gusmao said.

East Timor was Asia's poorest country upon independence. Half the population lacks any formal education, youth unemployment is high and two out of five people live on less than 55 cents a day.

Gusmao recalled that gross domestic product contracted by an estimated 38 percent in 1999, when militias backed by the Indonesian army launched a "scorched-earth" campaign following a vote in favour of independence.

He said the economy grew fast in 31 months under United Nations stewardship but contracted by five percent in 2002-2003 as many foreign staff departed and a much smaller UN support mission took over.

While education and health were two long-term pillars of development, Gusmao said development plans must also focus on boosting growth.

Unless people were confident they could earn money "the stability issue will be a permanent obstacle and have a potentially damaging effect, which is still vivid in our memories," he said.

Two people died in riots in Dili last December and many buildings were destroyed.

Gusmao called for a programme leading to self-sufficiency in basic agricultural commodities in five to seven years, encouragement for small industries and the promotion of grassroots democracy.


Copyright (c) 2003 Agence France-Presse

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