Subject: AFP: Timorese lament poverty and injustice five years after independence vote

Agence France Presse -- English

August 30, 2004 Monday 9:50 AM GMT

Timorese lament poverty and injustice five years after independence vote

Rosa Garcia

DILI Aug 30

Five years after a violence-wracked independence vote that broke decades of Indonesian rule, East Timorese said Monday they remain shackled by poverty, corruption and injustice, despite bright prospects ahead.

The tiny Southeast Asian nation's emergence from the bloodbath which surrounded the August 30, 1999 vote was seen as a story of triumph over adversity, as the country defied intimidation from Jakarta to break away.

At least 1,400 died in the maelstrom of violence created by the Indonesian military and their local militia proxies, with entire villages being laid to waste and the country's infrastructure left in tatters.

But five years on from the vote and more than two years after East Timor declared full sovereignty after a period of UN stewardship, the former Portuguese colony is still waiting for its happy ending.

Profits from lucrative offshore oil fields which could allow the country leap from the position of Asia's poorest to one of its most wealthy remain tied up in an ownership dispute with Australia.

Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities committed five years ago have also hit a stumbling block with an Indonesian human rights court failing to imprison any senior Indonesian security officials over the crimes.

"The East Timorese people still crave justice and full control over their natural resources," said a statement by the East Timor Action Network, a US-based campaign group which was one of the driving forces behind the 1999 vote.

"The recent acquittals on appeal of Indonesian security officials reminded the international community yet again that Indonesia's ad hoc court on East Timor is a sham. Will international pledges of justice also be hollow?"

Earlier this month Jakarta announced that four Indonesian security officers, including Major General Adam Damiri, the most senior to face trial for the bloodshed during the UN-backed vote, had been cleared by an appeal court.

A 10-year jail term imposed on a pro-Jakarta militiaman who oversaw the murder and torture of independence supporters was also cut in half by the human rights court set up as an alternative to an international tribunal.

The announcement was condemned by the United States and other countries, and prompted demands for justice from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In a televised address to his nation to mark the independence vote anniversary, East Timor President Xanana Gusmao acknowledged his nation "still has many flaws".

On the streets of Dili, where many were enjoying a public holiday, ordinary East Timorese said they remained steadfastly proud of their independence fight, but had yet to reap rewards.

"There are still many problems that need to be solved. The government, in particular, must immediately establish an investor-friendly law so that investors will come and create jobs," said 33-year-old student Osorio da Silva.

Salvador Fatima, who scrapes a living selling vegetables, said independence allowed him to "sleep peacefully at night" but had yet to provide his family with sufficient income.

"We are still facing a lot of problems, especially getting money to put our children through school. It is difficult to get people to buy my products because our economy is too weak."

Despite the gloomy prospects, one glimmer of hope was visible after East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said on Sunday he was confident Australia would recognise his country's right to more petroleum resources.

"I am confident that a solution can be reached that reflects Timor Leste's (East Timor) rights in the Timor Sea under international law," Alkatiri said in a statement issued in Dili.

Under interim arrangements for the disputed maritime border with Australia, East Timor is forecast to earn about four billion US dollars from known reserves. But under a permanent boundary set according to international law, East Timor would be entitled to three times this amount.


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