Subject: Witness to a new dawn in East Timor (James Dunn)

The Courier

Witness to a new dawn in East Timor


17/06/2008 1:06:00 AM

IN THE careful language of a former diplomat, James Dunn holds "cautious optimism" for the future of East Timor.

He should know, having been Australian consul to the country known as Portuguese Timor in the 1950s and present at almost all of the troubled nation's key moments since then.

"It's calm now and it's encouraging. There could be a new dawn, but we need to bear in mind there are problems of all sorts that need to be overcome," Mr Dunn said.

Last night he addressed a meeting of Ballarat Friends of Ainaro Community Committee and the Australia East Timor Association Ballarat.

He said the "unique" relationship of Ballarat and other Australian communities to places like Ainaro was crucial for the re-building of East Timor.

He said the country had been paralysed by the trauma of not only the Indonesian occupation but the Japanese occupation during World War II, neither of which had been properly addressed.

"Programs like those run by Ballarat are particularly important. To motivate the people, things need to be happening for them and that hasn't been happening as well as it might.

"When you have these community-to-community schemes, (Australians) actually go to these areas, meet with them, get to know them and help them improve the areas that are really worrying them."

Mr Dunn was in East Timor in 1974, before Indonesia's invasion of the territory. He was sent on a fact-finding mission by the Australian Government to assess the Portuguese Colony's future options.

As a representative of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, he returned the following year.

He wrote the first report about the death of the Balibo journalists killed in the country.

And when the country finally got to vote on its independence in 1999, he returned to the country as a UN observer.

He's been back many times since, including this year after the shooting of President Jose Ramos-Horta _ an attack he insists was not a coup attempt but "just something that went terribly wrong".

Mr Dunn has known Mr Ramos-Horta since the latter was 14, and, aside from visits to East Timor, keeps in regular email contact with him.

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