Subject: Timber to rebuild E. Timor likely to come from Indonesia

Sydney Morning Herald 20/10/99

Timber to rebuild likely to come from Indonesia

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

One irony of reconstructing the East Timor towns and villages destroyed in a two-week firestorm by pro-Jakarta militia is the source of timber now needed for a crash building program.

United Nations planners say much of the timber will probably be bought from Indonesia, which many consider to be the architect of East Timor's holocaust. With the onset of the wet season only weeks away, and concerns about its potential for mosquito-borne diseases, UN officials consider roofing East Timor their first priority.

"The shelter stuff I am screaming for at the moment is tin roofing, wood for those living in village areas and some cement," said 52-year-old New Zealander Mr Ross Mountain, the UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator in East Timor.

"My concern about houses in the villages relates to our need to supply wood, because, if not, people are going to go off and chop down the few trees that remain. This is not a well-wooded island."

Using Indonesia as a market for construction material would help foster reconciliation between the two countries, he said. "My second concern is to try and inject some stimulus into the economy so people can start buying and selling - income generation projects."

Rebuilding homes has assumed added urgency now that the trickle of East Timorese returning from camps across the border in West Timor is about to turn into a flood involving as many as 260,000 homeless.

Almost the entire population of East Timor - about 850,000 - was displaced in the violence following the announcement of the landslide independence victory at the August 30 ballot.

Most cities and towns were reduced to rubble-strewn, fire-blackened wastelands. According to one UN report, 100 per cent of Dili's central business district was destroyed, 95 per cent of Balibo, 60 per cent of Liquica, 95 per cent of Suai and 80 per cent of Maubara.

The damage bill is in the tens of millions of dollars. A $289 million appeal is about to be launched by the UN for the reconstruction of East Timor and aid projects in West Timor.

The UN children's fund, UNICEF, yesterday began a mass measles vaccination program for 15,000 East Timorese under the age of five. Stressed and physically weakened after weeks on the run, children are especially vulnerable to measles.

East Timor's Indonesian-dominated public service has been decimated, with estimates that only 20 per cent of staff remain. "Right now the police and judiciary are zero. Interfet was not set up to become policemen, detention camp managers, judge and jury for people who have committed offences," Mr Mountain said.

One option is to recruit in countries where there are large numbers of East Timorese. Australia has 22,000, many of whom possess skills now needed to rebuild their shattered homeland. Another option is an East Timorese skills database.

Meanwhile, UNICEF will become a virtual education ministry during the UN-supervised transitional period.

Putting tens of thousands of East Timorese children back into class is a priority, said UNICEF spokesman Mr Mark Thomas, but many of the schools which remain largely untouched by the militia's arson attacks now serve as UN headquarters or barracks to some 7,000 soldiers of the international peace force.

Then there is the question of what curriculum to teach. Most secondary school teachers were Indonesian, and have fled. But 70 per cent of the primary school teachers, mainly East Timorese, remain or want to return. In 1992 the Mary Mackillop Institute of East Timorese Studies started developing a native Tetum language curriculum at the request of Dili's Nobel Laureate Bishop, Carlos Belo.

The course is being dusted off for primary school students, but no decision has been taken on the language of instruction for secondary schools.

Not one bank remains in operation in East Timor, raising concerns about what currency should be in circulation.

Mr Mountain says in the short term he favours maintaining the Indonesian rupiah, warning of an inflationary spiral if an economy based on the Australian or American dollar were suddenly implemented.

Mr Mountain remained optimistic about East Timor's future, although he cautioned about providing too much aid at the expense of self-sufficiency.

"One has to be careful about smothering them with assistance. We need to be in the business of working ourselves out of a job."

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