Subject: IHT: Timorese Factions Are Key to Nationhood

International Herald Tribune Thursday, December 16, 1999

Timorese Factions Are Key to Nationhood

By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune

DILI, East Timor - Now that the East Timorese independence coalition no longer has a common enemy to hold it together, there are signs that it is starting to fracture. Its political leaders meanwhile acknowledge that they must either stay united in trying to rebuild the shattered territory or start campaigning for political power in the independent democratic state they hope to achieve after 24 years of repression by Indonesia. ''The real enemy now is within,'' said Vicente Soares Paria, a lecturer in social and political science at the University of East Timor. ''We have many competing factions and interests, and we must reconcile them. That is the political challenge we face.''

The coalition, known as the National Council of Timorese Resistance, was formed by 18 political, student, and civic groups to present common front to the outside world.

The issue of political cohesion is of concern to the United Nations, which is in charge of East Timor's transition to independence and wants to create the foundation for a self-sustaining economy and stable government in one of the poorest places in Asia before the handover takes place.

The issue of when and how party politics resume in East Timor is also of concern to the foreign governments, international financial institutions and nongovernment aid organizations that are involved in the effort to help the territory recover from the violence and destruction by militias and their Indonesian military backers that followed the overwhelming vote Aug. 30 to separate from Indonesia.

Governments and agencies involved in the rebuilding of East Timor will meet Friday in Tokyo to discuss an ambitious reconstruction program that would start in the next six to nine months. The meeting is to be overseen by the United Nations and the World Bank.

Given the shortage of skills and resources in East Timor, many UN and foreign aid officials say they believe that the coalition leaders should put nation-building ahead of politics until the territory can run its own affairs in a competent and peaceful manner.

''We need to persuade them to stay united to avoid premature political competition,'' Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, said in a recent interview.

The United Nations is widely expected to prepare the territory for independence within three years. But Mr. de Mello said he had deliberately not started talking about a timetable since his administration started work last month, partly because ''I do not want to trigger early jockeying for political power.''

Mr. de Mello has formed a special consultative panel to give advice on all major policy decisions the UN makes in East Timor. The panel, which held its first meeting last weekend, has a majority of East Timorese members, including seven representatives of the independence movement, three from groups that wanted autonomy within Indonesia, and a priest from the Roman Catholic Church, the main denomination in East Timor.

A recent survey coordinated by the World Bank concluded that $260 million to $300 million was needed over the next three years for longer-term development and reconstruction in East Timor, primarily in infrastructure, health and education.

Xanana Gusmao, who heads the council and whom many East Timorese want to be their first president, said he hoped that the territory could become independent in no more than two years. But Mr. Gusmao conceded that lack of money, skills and equipment was a major problem for the East Timorese in preparing for independence.

''The main problem is our own capacity to respond to the challenge and the demands of our people,'' he said in an interview. ''But I believe that after we reorganize ourselves, we can be a real partner in all these international projects.''

Mr. Gusmao and other council leaders are also preoccupied with trying to improve relations with Indonesia so that trade, banking, and air and sea transport links can be resumed as soon as possible, that East Timor is not destabilized by continuing hostile militia activity from West Timor and that more than 100,000 East Timorese can return home from camps in West Timor.

It is not clear how much longer the ideological, class and economic interests represented in the pro-independence council and the United Nations' new consultative panel can continue working together for the common good.

''The council is a very loose coalition of 18 organizations with people from all sorts of viewpoints,'' said Jose Ramos-Horta, one of its senior officials. ''The council is a transitional body, and that's healthy. If it stays too long, we risk becoming a one-party state.''

Mr. Ramos-Horta said that if reconciliation and reconstruction in East Timor went well, the territory could become independent in less than two years. But he said independence would have to be preceded by the first democratic village council elections, perhaps in six months, and by voting a year later for a national legislature and a constitutional-drafting convention.

''What is important,'' he said, ''is that political differences are settled peacefully.''

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