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SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Never has the World Bank, never has the Asian Development Bank, never has the IMF, never has the UN, worked as fast as it has here. Unfortunately, it is still too slow.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, revisiting East Timor.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: The main problem is that humanitarian organizations have a principle, which is not to assist combatants. And this is a very fundamental principle that is difficult to breach, even in the case of the FALINTIL.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. For 25 years the former Portuguese colony of East Timor was occupied by Indonesia. One year ago East Timor voted for independence. The Indonesian military and allied militias then went on a rampage, killing hundreds and forcing an estimated 250,000 people to flee their homes. The Indonesian military also wrecked the country’s economic infrastructure, burning almost all buildings and disabling factories. Last October the Indonesian military left and UN troops arrived, paving the way for East Timor’s eventual independence. Over the past 11 months the United Nations has made progress in rebuilding the shattered economy, but as Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Dili, the UN is under increasing criticism for not doing enough.
[sounds of people, vehicles, on a busy street]
EHRLICH: In the shadow of newly refurbished UN headquarters Cipriano De Deus sits at a small stall, where he sells soft drinks and cigarettes to UN employees. He’s barely surviving economically.
CIPRIANO DE DEUS: [a translator speaks over Cipriano’s voice] He said, it’s still, he receives very little, still. In the past it was easier to get those cigarettes in.
EHRLICH: I see. So there’s a shortage of goods, so he’s not doing such good business?
TRANSLATOR: Right, yeah.
EHRLICH: The former hotel worker fled to the hills last September during the massacres by the Indonesian military. When De Deus returned he had neither a home nor a job, joining the estimated 80% of urban Timorese who are unemployed.
CIPRIANO DE DEUS: [a translator speaks over Cipriano’s voice] When they came back [to] the hotel, his former place of employment had new owners and they were the ones that told him that they already had other employees.
EHRLICH: So none of the other employees got their jobs, the old employees, got their jobs back?
EHRLICH: Australian businesspeople, along with some East Timorese partners, had simply seized the hotel when the Indonesian owners didn’t return. They hired an all new staff. That’s typical of the freewheeling, sometimes chaotic economy that has developed here. Many Timorese feel that foreigners are benefiting while they suffer.
[sounds of people, vehicles, on a busy street]
EHRLICH: Here at the Dili open-air market vendors hawk everything from cooking oil to jeans. You can even buy rice and utensils originally donated as relief aid, but which ended up on the black market. Prices for everything are sky high. A typical blue collar laborer in East Timor, when he can find work, earns six dollars a day. A dozen eggs costs 60 cents. Beer and sodas cost $1.20 per can. These prices are relatively cheap for the UN staff and international aid workers who earn $60,000-$100,000 a year, but they reflect a 100% rate of inflation for East Timorese. Eusebio Guterres, who heads Labor Advocacy for East Timor, says Timorese are well aware of the wage gap.
Eusebio Guterres: [via a translator] There is a great deal of resentment because of this discrepancy. But also, because people work in order to earn a living and to provide for their families. And what they presently earn is not sufficient for the basic necessities of life. In my opinion, UNTAET is not serious in developing opportunities for these people to be employed.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Yes, there is a lot of frustration.
EHRLICH: Sergio Vieira De Mello Heads the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor, or UNTAET.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: There are many complaints that the international community and ourselves have been slow. They are understandable. They are justified from the Timorese perspective. But when we explain to them how easy it is to destroy, but how difficult and time consuming it is to build—not rebuild—to build new infrastructure, in sectors such as health, education, roads, ports, telecommunications, electricity, water—which we’re already in a pretty bad state before September of last year—they understand. We have been cutting all possible corners. Never has the World Bank, never has the Asian Development Bank, never has the IMF, never has the UN, worked as fast as it has here. Unfortunately, it is still too slow.
[sounds of vehicles on a street]
EHRLICH: A quick drive around Dili shows that the UN and the future independent East Timorese government do face tremendous problems. Much of Dili is nothing but burned out concrete shells. After months of hard work, the UN has restored basic electricity, water, and minimal port facilities. It has sponsored relief projects that also provide jobs. Sarah Cliff heads the World Bank’s office in Dili. She says international agencies are trying to avoid the errors of past UN aid projects in Cambodia and elsewhere.
SARAH CLIFF: During the period of the large-scale international presence, workers are drawn into urban areas, because unfortunately that’s where most of the international people are located and that creates a demand for service jobs. When the international community pulls out, those jobs disappear and you typically face very large-scale problems of urban unemployment, with all the associated social risks of crime, for example. The way that we’re trying to deal with that is by prioritizing rural investment during the transition. So, of the first programs which we’ve put through, over 80% of the investment is going directly into rural areas.
EHRLICH: Cliff says the World Bank is also trying to involve Timorese in the planning and implementation of aid projects.
CLIFF: In the education program, for example, school councils and principals will be given materials and cash to be able to mobilize local employment to get the schools up and running again. That would include both skilled employment—carpenters and other artisans—and unskilled jobs.
EHRLICH: Such plans sound good when proposed at the World Bank office in Dili, but how do they get implemented in the rural areas, where the coffee and casaba farmers live?
[sound of rooster crowing]
EHRLICH: UNTAET Humanitarian Affairs Officer Rainer Frauenfeld meets guests in front of a refurbished house that serves as the local UN headquarters here in a small town 50 miles south of Dili. He says the Indonesian military destroyed houses, public buildings, and farm equipment throughout the rural areas.
RAINER FRAUENFELD: Buildings have just been razed, wherever, rural and urban. So lots of farmers have lost their dwellings. And they’re just left with either some bamboo roofs or shacks or temporary accommodations.
EHRLICH: In order to prevent total economic collapse UNTAET sponsors Temporary Employment Programs, or TEPs, which employ 12,000 Timorese for two weeks at a time.
FRAUENFELD: The idea is to inject financial resources into the economy quickly, employ people, and rehabilitate local infrastructure, and even try to resuscitate the local economy.
[sound of rooster crowing and dog barking]
EHRLICH: Farmer Evaristo DaSilva worked on the TEPs public works project. He appreciated the two weeks pay, but says the area needs longer-term development
EVARISTO DaSILVA: [via a translator] We’d like UNTAET to spend money on educating our people so that they’re better prepared for the future. And not just to spend money on clearing the roadsides. We’re already very good at that.
EHRLICH: UNTAET does want to initiate longer-term projects. But local administrator Frauenfeld says the headquarters in Dili doesn’t always understand local conditions. For example, HQ wanted to rebuild the open-air market here. But it would have drained the entire budget for the whole district. Frauenfeld says the project was canceled. Had local Timorese been consulted in advance, he says, the problem may have been avoided.
FRAUENFELD: The key problem is getting a sociopolitical system going whereby you have participation, representation, and sound government structures. And I think that’s where we need to do our homework. And we need to do it fast, because we end up having problems otherwise. What we need is involving people at the local level, people from the communities, into building their own governance and government system.
EHRLICH: Many East Timorese agree. They accuse the UN of arrogance and failure to adequately consult with local people. Constantino Pinto is director of the social service wing of the Protestant churches in East Timor.
CONSTANTINO PINTO: [via a translator] We actually thought that the, that was the intention of the UN and of international NGOs, is to come and help us rebuild and train us to be able to stand on our own two feet. That’s what we thought their reason was for coming. But they’ve been here quite a few months now and the steps that have been taken don’t show us as East Timorese people that it’s going in that direction.
EHRLICH: UN officials say they are encouraging the training of Timorese and point to some foreign-owned companies as positive examples.
[sound of machinery]
EHRLICH: Here at Universal Engineering, an Australian-owned company in Dili, Timorese workers operate lathes to fabricate steel products. Manager Tom Culbert proudly explains that he’s trained all the workers in modern machine shop technology, hoping eventually to develop workers for the offshore oil drilling industry. He says this kind of training is crucial for the future of the country. Culbert then shows visitors around the factory. Two Timorese workers stand at a grinder, without safety glasses and wearing only rubber sandals.
[sound of machinery]
TOM CULBERT: Where are your glasses?
TIMORESE MACHINE SHOP WORKERS: [response not translated]
CULBERT: Where are your safety boots?
EHRLICH: Oh, oh, that’s right. He’s wearing sandals.
EHRLICH: Culbert says it’s not easy training the workers, who are used to the far more lax Indonesian safety standards and work ethic. He’s also concerned about paying too high a wage. He says the UN has advised private employers not to pay too much even if the company can afford it.
CULBERT: Because of inflation we’ve got to try and contain wages here. It is of concerning. And every day we’re, we approach, UNTAET is saying, ‘You must control wages until such time as the economy can sustain growth.’
EHRLICH: The World Bank’s Sarah Cliff agrees that just because foreign firms could pay higher wages doesn’t mean they should. Higher wages, she argues, could eventually put East Timor at a competitive disadvantage.
CLIFF: And the presence of the international community is causing a rise in the wages of unskilled workers here. Well above the levels of the neighbor countries to East Timor. This is going to create a competitiveness block, if those wages don’t come down to more natural levels over time.
EHRLICH: But East Timorese workers perceive the issue rather differently. They say they can’t survive on existing wages given the high rate of inflation. In recent months hotel workers, port workers, and UN drivers have all gone on strike demanding higher wages and union representation. Joe Nevins teaches international development at UCLA and heads an NGO that monitors the UN’s performance in East Timor.
JOE NEVINS: Of course, that’s a very similar argument that Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Bank uses in the United States to argue against high wages, higher wages for US workers. Meanwhile, wages for high-level management, chief executive officers in the United States has skyrocketed. This very same logic is being applied to a place like East Timor.
EHRLICH: Nevins maintains that the UN and international lending agencies are not just disinterested dispensers of aid. He says they promote certain policies.
NEVINS: A world power, especially like the United States, has a global political and economic agenda. And that is for so-called free markets to allow as much foreign investment in a deregulated fashion as possible. In that sense they would, I would imagine, the United States, which has a disproportionate amount of influence in institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF, wants to see an East Timor that is very much friendly to US interests. And when we talk about US interests, we’re talking about interests that are largely determined by corporations based in the United States, as opposed to say labor unions or women’s groups in the United States.
EHRLICH: How should East Timor’s economy develop in order to benefit ordinary people? That was one of the topics discussed here at a conference of FRETILIN, the organization that led the country’s independence struggle. First, an honor guard raises the flag.
[sound of patriotic music and a military officer barking out orders]
EHRLICH: Then a choir sings revolutionary songs
[sounds of a choir singing, which continues in the background]
EHRLICH: Then delegates jam inside a cavernous sports stadium to discuss the future of their country. Mari Alkatiri sits at the head table. He’s one of the top three leaders of the independence movement. In an interview away from the crowd he explains that FRETILIN began as an anti-imperialist organization in the 1970s. But his own and FRETILIN’s views have changed over the years.
MARI ALKATIRI: After the collapse of the Soviet Union thinking about socialism or communism or capitalism means nothing, because in my point of view the communism fall down because lack of liberty of democracy. But the capitalism is not resolving the problem of the peoples. That a problem has to be creative and try to build up something new.
EHRLICH: Alkatiri says that state will certainly take the initiative in developing East Timor’s vast offshore gas and oil reserves. Revenues from those reserves, located on the ocean floor between Australia and East Timor, are expected to generate $500 million over the next five years. Back in the 1980s, Australia and Indonesia negotiated a treaty to split oil revenues. Alkatiri, who is East Timor’s negotiator on the issue, says that agreement is illegal because the UN didn’t recognize Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. He says under international law East Timor should get all the revenue because the fields fall within East Timor’s maritime boundaries.
ALKATIRI: From the theory, at least East Timor is about 400 mile, and they are looking to get about 300 miles for them. That’s why there are some conferences.
EHRLICH: But what would that mean for the existing area under this current . .?
ALKATIRI: It would mean that 100% of the existing area will belong to East Timor.
EHRLICH: And UNTAET is supportive of you on that issue?
ALKATIRI: Yeah, yeah, completely supportive.
EHRLICH: Not surprisingly, Australia strongly disagrees and wants to continue splitting revenues. Negotiations are expected to continue for some time. Revenue from oil and gas could provide East Timor with much needed funds to develop its industry, agriculture, education, and healthcare. The oil wealth also promises to keep East Timor at the center of competition among various foreign powers. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Dili, East Timor.
[sound of choir singing]
MCHUGH: Coming up, the FALINTIL struggles with the transition to independence.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: I have great respect for the FALINTIL, particularly for having resisted the temptation of transforming what happened last year in East Timor into a civil war. And it took a lot of discipline.
PORTER: When Indonesia invaded and occupied the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975, the Armed Forces for National Liberation of East Timor, or FALINTIL, went into the hills and fought the occupation for 25 years. But today the FALINTIL is caught in a Catch-22. The guerrillas have scrupulously abided by terms of a UN-backed cease fire, but the UN can’t provide them with adequate food, shelter, and medical care. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Alieu, where the FALINTIL is camped, 50 miles south of the East Timorese capital, Dili.
[a single guerrilla singing a patriotic song, accompanied by a guitar]
EHRLICH: A FALINTIL guerrilla puts down his assault rifle and picks up a guitar. He and his fellow guerrillas have little else to do. They sing an old marching song, remembering their days as fighters in the hills.
[a group of guerrillas singing a patriotic song, accompanied by a guitar]
EHRLICH: In May of last year 1,500 Timorese guerrillas stopped fighting and gathered at assembly points as part of a UN-supervised agreement to allow free elections. Last August, East Timorese voted for independence by an 80% margin. The Indonesian military then went on a rampage, murdering hundreds of Timorese and driving an estimated 250,000 from their homes. Today, with the Indonesian army long gone, the FALINTIL guerrillas are still restricted to Alieu, and face worse living conditions than many civilians. FALINTIL’s First Company lives in this abandoned school. Commander Joad Miranda shows me around.
[sound of rooster crowing]
JOAD MIRANDA: [via a translator] This is our sleeping area.
EHRLICH: How many men sleep in this room?
MIRANDA: [via a translator] Twenty or more people live in one room.
EHRLICH: The guerrillas sleep on thin straw mats crammed into an old classroom. We walk over to another classroom, now transformed into a makeshift kitchen. Miranda helps cook rice for 50 men with nothing but a few pots and an open fire.
MIRANDA: [via a translator] There’s nothing else other than what you see here. We don’t have vegetables because we don’t have money to spend on such things.
EHRLICH: How about meat or fish or chicken?
MIRANDA: [via a translator] We get meat every one or two months and that’s when it’s the local people who give it to us. They give us beef.
EHRLICH: Juliet Chin is the local UN human rights administrator in Alieu and has visited other FALINTIL living quarters.
JULIET CHIN: I must confess that they live in the barest and the minimal of conditions. Alieu is a cold mountain station. It is cool at night and I find, just like, straw mats on the floor, on tile floor, because they are in squatting in some vacated or ex-prison, actually. And I would say that that is very harsh living conditions
EHRLICH: The FALINTIL medical clinic is even more stark. It has one bench, one desk, and one metal gurney with no mattress or sheets. There are no doctors and only a few boxes of medicine. While the guerrillas can get some medical treatment at a nearby civilian clinic, it only has two doctors to serve a town of 15,000 people. FALINTIL Mario de Silva.
MARIO DA SILVA: [via a translator] The problem is that we have nowhere to lay a sick person. We have no beds. And we also have limited electricity; most of the rooms don’t have electric lights.
EHRLICH: Da Silva has appealed for help numerous times to representatives of the UN and various international aid agencies.
DA SILVA: [via a translator] We’ve put in requests for medicine, for a doctor, and for beds. We’ve had various teams come through, and we don’t hear a reply.
EHRLICH: Sergio Vieira De Mello, the UN’s chief administrator in East Timor, agrees that living conditions for the guerrillas are appalling.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: The main problem is that humanitarian organizations have a principle, which is not to assist combatants. And this is a very fundamental principle that is difficult to breach, even in the case of the FALINTIL. So we have been trying to find all kinds of measures, half measures, around-about ways in which to provide assistance to them.
EHRLICH: While guerrilla commanders agree that aid agencies have been slow in giving humanitarian assistance, they say the real problem is that the UN remains suspicious of them. Commander Filomeno Paixao is one of FALINTIL’s top leaders.
FILOMENO PAIXAO: [via a translator] Maybe the UN considered them as, the same as militia. That’s the attitude. That means they really don’t understand us.
EHRLICH: Some in the UN are suspicious of FALINTIL’s leftist past. During the 1970s and early ’80s FALINTIL was part of the anti-imperialist movement sweeping the Third World. But that changed in 1983, when FALINTIL became the army of a broader independence movement. FALINTIL leaders say they’ve proved their commitment to democracy by their actions. Last summer the Indonesian military unleashed a wave of violence aimed at intimidating East Timorese into voting against independence. When Indonesia lost the vote the military tried to provoke a civil war, including sending armored police to attack the FALINTIL. Taur Matan Ruak, FALINTIL’s chief of staff, says the guerrillas refused to be provoked.
Taur Matan Ruak: [via a translator] Indonesia was acting as a provocateur and it was very important that even though Indonesia did the wrong thing, we did not also do the wrong thing. At a personal level, when I heard that my older brother had been killed I felt extremely sad, but we had no, we couldn’t disobey our orders. We had no orders to fight so we couldn’t fight. They believed Indonesia was wanting Timor to start fighting amongst themselves.
EHRLICH: FALINTIL was also making a practical decision. The guerrillas would likely have lost a military confrontation with the Indonesian troops and fighting would have eliminated the possibility of foreign intervention to stop the massacres. UN Chief Administrator Sergio Vieira De Mello admires the FALINTIL decision.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: I have great respect for the FALINTIL, particularly for having resisted the temptation of transforming what happened last year in East Timor into a civil war. And it took a lot of discipline. A lot of self-imposed restraint to refrain from fighting back.
EHRLICH: The UN and FALINTIL can’t yet agree on a future role for the guerrilla fighters. Xanana Gusmao, East Timor’s main independence leader, proposes that FALINTIL form the core of a 3,000 person military force, but Vieira De Mello says the exact size and composition of such a force is in dispute.
VIEIRA DE MELLO: We will have to decide whether part of the FALINTIL would be retrained and integrated into the new defense forces of East Timor. And we will also have to decide what to do with the other ones, the old veterans. Should they be demobilized? Should they be reintegrated into civilian life?
EHRLICH: Vieira De Mello says the UN Security Council resolution on East Timor offers no guidelines on how to handle the issue.
VIEIRA DE MELLO: Resolution 1272 of the Security Council does not give us any mandate except to maintain security in East Timor using international military forces. But there is no mention of the FALINTIL, there is no mention of disarming the FALINTIL or demobilizing them, or transforming them into something new.
EHRLICH: A team of British military experts hired by the UN will soon visit East Timor to assess its defense needs. Vieira De Mello says he expects the team’s report to be presented in the fall, after which FALINTIL’s future will be easier to decide.
[a group of guerrillas singing a patriotic song, accompanied by a guitar]
EHRLICH: That’s of little comfort to the guerrillas in camp here in Alieu. While they face harsh living conditions they have not rioted or looted. FALINTIL commander Filomeno Paixao says that shows the guerrillas are a disciplined force that will, after independence, stay politically neutral.
FILOMENO PAIXAO: [via a translator] What we want to stress is that we are concerned with the development of a nation.
EHRLICH: Elections will be held sometime soon. Does it matter for the army, which party wins the elections?
FILOMENO PAIXAO: [via a translator] Not at all. What is important is that whoever wins, that they are concerned about the welfare of the nation, about justice, and democracy, human rights, and there should not be any corruption or no violence against other parties.
EHRLICH: Whatever FALINTIL’s political future everyone here agrees they need humanitarian aid soon. But no one can quite figure out how they can get it. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Alieu, East Timor.
[a group of guerrillas singing a patriotic song, accompanied by a guitar]
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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