Subject: IN: Radio offers Timor dream of liberty
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:38:47 +0000
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Independent [UK] Thursday, June 17, 1999

Radio offers Timor dream of liberty

By Richard Lloyd Parry in Dili

EVEN THE most loyal employee of Radio Unamet would agree that Asia's newest station is not exactly a bundle of laughs. Its tone is prim and unexcitable. Most writers and announcers are enthusiastic novices, not immune to the occasional gabble. The music it plays has more in common with that of a hotel lift than a fashionable dance floor.

But Radio Unamet's job is too important for playfulness. To say the future of 800,000 people depends on its success is hardly an exaggeration. Unamet is the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor, the newly established authority responsible for supervising a historic referendum in one of East Asia's most remote and troubled corners. Next month, if all goes to plan, East Timorese will be given the opportunity to choose between autonomy within Indonesia or full independence, a cause for which a guerrilla army has been fighting for 24 years.

For months, armed militias, supported by the Indonesia military, have terrorised wide areas of the tiny country, murdering and threatening those who favour independence. International groups, led by the East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jose Ramos Horta, conduct their own pro-independence campaign on the Internet. Caught between the two sides of the propaganda war are 12 UN officials and local recruits, working from a small, scruffy studio in the middle of East Timor's capital, Dili.

The UN has wide experience of broadcasting in dicey places - in the run-up to the Cambodian elections, for instance, it put out 15 hours a day, compared with just three hour-long programmes in East Timor. But few operations have been as complicated as this.

To start with, there are the technical difficulties of operating in a studio with only two master tapes. More troublesome is the job of broadcasting in four languages. The first quarter of each programme is in English. The remaining segments are translations into Indonesian, Portuguese (the language of East Timor's former coloniser), and one of several local tongues, Tetum.

Tetum provides the greatest challenges because, as a language of rural villages, it lacks much of the vocabulary of international politics.

But the biggest obstacle to entertaining radio is the UN's mandate. The militia leader, Eurico Guterrez, who in March threatened to kill foreign diplomats and journalists, has accused Unamet of favouring the pro-independence side.

The territory's only newspaper, Voice of East Timor, was ransacked by his goons earlier this year; since reopening, it has adopted a tone palpably favourable to integration. There will be no lively exchanges of controversial views, no Jeremy Paxmans on Radio Unamet. Editorial matter is scrupulously neutral, but the sad and violent situation in East Timor emerges clearly between the lines.

"No one in the government or the military, not even your neighbours, will ever find out how you voted," was last night's message. "Unamet will still be here after you vote," runs another slogan, repeated like a jingle throughout the programme. Radio Unamet was supposed to have a sister operation on television. But the state TV company, TVRI, is refusing to co-operate unless it is given an editorial veto.

Fifteen per cent or more of East Timorese are illiterate, but 70 per cent have access to radios. Large numbers of them face nightly intimidation from men armed with guns and machetes; more still fear an explosion of violence after the referendum is done. In such circumstances, it is achievement enough just to say, "Your vote is secret" - "Buat nebe imi hili segredo" - "O sigilo do voto" - over and over again.

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