Subject: USA TODAY: IOC, U.N. steer devastated country's Olympic bid

SPORTS East Timor 's hope flickers anew IOC, U.N. steer devastated country's bid to be included at Games Michael Hiestand

06/30/2000 USA Today

DILI, East Timor -- If you love underdogs, Jaime Lay is as good as one gets.

He lifts homemade barbells, made from old car parts, to get in shape to compete as a weightlifter at the Olympic Games in Sydney. Speaking intently in his native Tetun through a translator, Lay says his real weights were stolen or destroyed in the mayhem that decimated this city in September.

Everybody nods at that. In the capital of the world's newest country, whose creation came with almost unimaginable cruelty inflicted on its people last fall, Lay is asked what it would mean to East Timor to send an Olympic contingent to Australia. As U.N. helicopters roar overhead, the translator passes on what's already drawn solemn approval from the growing throng around Lay that is beginning to stop traffic:

"He says that it would be a great chance to show the world what Timorese can do. That we'd be very happy."

So would anybody who gets the chance to eyeball this petri dish of democracy, which came to life only after a brutal struggle with Indonesia. Now, the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee are joining forces to see if some athletes can represent this new nation at the Summer Games.

There are so many hardships to overcome -- just for day-to-day existence, let alone pioneering a path to the Olympics. But its citizens almost seem oblivious to the obstacles.

For example, in a country where international health authorities suggest that virtually the entire population is exposed to the risk of tuberculosis, the crowd around Lay is shoulder-to-shoulder, cramming in to hear his every word.

No one is taking much notice of the buzzing insects -- although health authorities also estimate 75-90% of the local population already has been exposed to Japanese encephalitis. That's a disease that can be transmitted by a single mosquito bite and, for people in which it fully develops, kills about half its victims and leaves most of the rest with severe brain damage.

The local mosquitoes also carry dengue fever, a potentially fatal tropical virus that can't be prevented by any medicine.

"I'm amazed how well these people have adjusted to their situation," says U.S. Navy Lt. Loren Locke, near the cocktail bar on the back deck of a barge docked in Dili's bay. This barge is home to about 60 U.S. troops, elaborately inoculated before they arrive and living on ships, now as safe as they can be from mosquitoes.

Officially separate from U.N. forces, they aren't allowed to go ashore unless they're armed, traveling at least in pairs and wearing long-sleeved uniforms treated with insect repellent.

"If this was in the U.S.," says Locke, classified as an "environmental health officer" and usually based at Pearl Harbor, "people would be just devastated. They wouldn't even be able to function at all."

Worse than Vietnam

Frank Fowlie was a Canadian Mountie, whose work included hunting down drug runners in the Arctic, for eight years. Until last Friday, Fowlie was the deputy administrator for Dili, the capital city of the first country run by the United Nations.

The United Nations has deployed about 8,500 peacekeeping troops and a staff of 2,100, including 1,500 East Timorese, to create an instant government and figure out such items as what the constitution should say and how to spend a promised $540 million in foreign aid.

But Saturday, Fowlie officially became East Timor's Olympic Games coordinator. Says Fowlie, with a reference to the famous 1988 Winter Olympic Jamaican bobsledders and the late actor who played their coach in the film Cool Runners: "My friends are already comparing me to John Candy."

Driving through traffic that lacks a consensus on whether motorists should stick to the right or left lanes, Fowlie points out various piles of rubble. There is the burned-down building that was a training center for boxers until, he says, Indonesian authorities and their compliant local militias used it to "torture" East Timorese suspected of wanting to create their own independent nation.

When U.N. troops arrived in September to stop what had become a slaughter, Fowlie says, "they found human flesh still on the walls" inside that building -- although the Indonesian troops, or their local accomplices, already had torched it.

And torched places are all over town. Indonesia, which now has the world's fourth-largest population, invaded in 1975, just months after Portugal dropped East Timor as a colony. Timorese, overwhelmingly Christian, long sought independence from Indonesia, which is largely Muslim, and they gave the idea a 79% approval vote in a referendum last August.

The Indonesians, and their sympathetic East Timorese militiamen, didn't go without a one-sided fight, burning and looting, down to smashing or stealing every pair of eyeglasses they could find. The arrival of U.N. forces, mostly Australians, stopped the mayhem that had lasted 10 days in September.

Mike Williams, a Marine colonel overseeing the U.S. military contingent in East Timor , arrived in January. "It really shocked me," says Williams, who was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War and was stationed in Beirut. "I knew there was devastation, but I'd never seen anything like this. It wasn't incidental to combat, but a deliberate attempt to rip the guts out of this country. When I first got here, there was absolutely nothing left."

Now, Williams says his troops have "dencap" -- meaning dental capabilities -- to at least pull teeth. The one-day record is held by one U.S. military dentist who pulled 234 -- 25 from just one man. As most physicians here were Indonesians, they left, leaving a country of at least 800,000 people with maybe two dozen indigenous doctors.

"It's a daily struggle just for food," says Tom Sidebottom, a Canadian hockey nut who is the U.N. head of social services in Dili. "About 70% of adults can't read, and there's maybe 85% unemployment. So health education takes a backseat."

And Canadian Fowlie, killing a mosquito on his dashboard, suggests Timor 's dangerous insects need to be kept in perspective. "I'm from Manitoba, where we have mosquitoes that can rip the roofs off Volkswagens," he says, smashing another one. "Kind of like my ex- wife."

An Olympic effort

When you're creating a nation from scratch, apparently everything seems possible.

Jose Ramos-Horta, the human rights activist who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for peace, had always said he would love to someday see East Timor compete in the Olympics. Fowlie tried to get things going in January by contacting the IOC. The IOC responded that it wasn't a bad idea if East Timor was in fact a nation and actually had anybody ready to respectably compete.

So in March, Fowlie and Victor Ramos, probably East Timor 's most promising prospect after boxing for Indonesia in 15 countries, drove a U.N. vehicle around in search of potential Olympians. By late April, they formed a national Olympic committee headed by Ramos- Horta.

Still, the process slogged. The "dam-buster," Fowlie says, came in May when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notified the IOC that East Timor's "independence is now secure" and participating in the Games would bring "an immense boost" to its morale. Australian Olympic official Kevin Gosper visited the athletes last week and made the formal offer of allowing up to 10 to train with Australian Olympians.

To save money, they'll fly out in U.N. cargo planes. Fowlie, understandably, wants to speed up the process but finds some of the athletes are so loyal to their old coaches that they're not sure they want to go train in Australia without them.

But Ramos, standing under the pomegranate trees that hang over the open sewer streams in front of his house, keeps his eyes on the prize as he pounds the heavy weight bag hanging on his porch. A crowd of kids, and several pigs, have gathered at his porch -- which carries official U.N. posters informing people how to recognize unexploded ordnance.

"The Olympics," he says through a translator, "that will make us all happy. I will be for East Timor , not Indonesia. We'll all be for East Timor ."

Surviving . . . and moving on

Dili, by all accounts, is on the mend. One sign of renewed vitality: Men with roosters on leashes throw the birds into the water in Dili's harbor -- making them swim back.

Meaning, of course, that cockfighting is making a comeback and participants are getting serious again about training their fighters.

"This is a terrific place," says William "Jake" Jacobsen, a career U.S. foreign officer who came out of retirement to become first U.S. liaison officer to East Timor . "It's like the Wild West. And the dingbats of the world come to a place like this. It's all kind of fuzzy here. And these people are resilient."

It's a place where U.N. Bangladesh troops helped reconstruct burned-out marketplaces; new ones now feature hunks of water buffalo nearly covered in buzzing insects. And U.N. troops from Kenya restored a tennis court.

A pioneering trauma treatment for the victims of torture began last week in Dili. And the very first class of police cadets is training in a building whose holding cells were used to torture East Timorese.

Now, Fowlie says, East Timor is one of 62 countries without any athletes who have met specific Olympic qualifying standards. But the IOC will consider taking two entrants from a country that doesn't meet those standards, as long as their sport's governing bodies also approve.

So Fowlie hopes two Timorese athletes will march in Sydney's opening ceremonies -- where they likely would get an ovation comparable to anything for the Australian contingent.

But this story might just get better and better. Fowlie, while visiting weightlifter Lay, is introduced to Lay's buddy Mateus Lukas, 22, who has a big upper torso but spindly legs, likelyruined by polio.

Lukas approaches Fowlie with a question. It's been his "dream" to compete in weightlifting in the Paralympics, which will be held in October in Sydney. Fowlie says he'll try to help.

Then Lukas pulls himself up on the wooden pole he uses to walk around to reach his full height, which doesn't look much more than 4 feet.

"It's not just for me," he says, "it's for East Timor ."

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