ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 6, No. 2
Summer 2000


CONTENTS: Summer 2000 Estafeta

John Sayles on East & West Timor

Keeping up the Pressure

La’o Hamutuk

Election 2000

Constancio Pinto

Helping East Timor's Grassroots

West Papua

Short Takes

back issues

ETAN Home Page


La’o Hamutuk Wants East Timorese to Participate in Their Territory’s Government

by Adam Minson

Soon after the UN, World Bank, and other such institutions arrived in East Timor, it became clear they had trouble responding to the East Timorese people’s needs and ideas. To help bridge this gap, international supporters of self-determination have launched a project to monitor and encourage genuine East Timorese participation in these organizations’ activities. The project is called La’o Hamutuk (Tetum for "Walking Together," also known as the East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis), and it hopes to bring the skills of the East Timorese people to the international institutions dominating East Timor’s reconstruction.

Initiated by the International Federation for East Timor (IFET), La’o Hamutuk is now up and running, with an office, phone, e-mail, bank account and Bulletin — no small achievements in militia-ravaged East Timor. In early May, ETAN’s Joseph Nevins and Pamela Sexton got things started in Dili, hiring initial East Timorese staff and consulting with numerous East Timorese groups to develop a clear mission and executive board. Although both Joe and Pam have since returned to the U.S. (Pam will move to East Timor for an extended period in September), others are continuing the work. LH hosts biweekly meetings with interested East Timorese NGOs — there are many, with high expectations for the project — and has published two issues of the La’o Hamutuk Bulletin in English and Tetum. LH has also met with several departments of the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET), the World Bank, and the National Consultative Council (NCC), and visited many villages across East Timor. Every step of the way, it collaborates with East Timor’s people and NGOs, setting the example of a joint East Timorese-international project responsive to the vox populi.

La’o Hamutuk’s preliminary mandate has become a concrete mission: "the people of East Timor must be the ultimate arbiters of the reconstruction process and thus the process should be as democratic and transparent as possible." Most observers say so far it has been neither. Many East Timorese are suspicious of the autocratic decision-making of UNTAET, the World Bank and other major players. Local people are often excluded from decisions about the future of their own country, while international organizations run the show. The UN brings in unqualified, inexperienced bureaucrats from around the world, but frequently excludes those who know the nascent country better than any foreign administrators: the people who live there.

If the reconstruction of East Timor is to succeed, East Timorese must have the final say. This does not mean disregarding the aid of international groups, but rather giving decision-making power to those who have to live with the consequences. La’o Hamutuk will work to improve the relationship between local people and world agencies temporarily administering the soon-to-be nation. With La’o Hamutuk operational, the prospects for this "Timorization" are brighter. The first issue of the La’o Hamutuk Bulletin includes an introduction to the project, and articles on reconciliation by Aniceto Guterres Lopes of Yayasan Hak (from a legal perspective) and Fr. Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo (from a socio-cultural perspective).

A week after this Bulletin editorialized that the international community should give more respect and support to FALINTIL (East Timor’s former guerilla army), UNTAET allocated $100,000 in humanitarian aid to FALINTIL. The local newspaper Timor Post credited La’o Hamutuk for raising the issue and stimulating the UN to act.

The second bulletin features an overview of UNTAET’s new environmental regulations for the territory and a letter from local NGOs to UNTAET concerning widespread asbestos danger from buildings destroyed in last year’s military/militia rampage. Both issues of the Bulletin deal with the international community’s responsibility for reconstruction and justice; the later issue has a critique of UNTAET’s recent evaluation of the relief process thus far.

You can read the La’o Hamutuk Bulletin on the web at or get paper copies from the ETAN National Office. As this project develops, it will need the support of activists and development experts around the world, and an email listserv has been set up to facilitate this. Contact Charles Scheiner at or 914-428-7299, or send email to the La’o Hamutuk Dili office at

Adam Minson, a student at Wesleyan University, is an intern with ETAN’s New York offices.