The Guardian April 24, 2002


East Timor: Historic presidential elections

The people of East Timor enthusiastically voted in presidential 
elections on April 14, 2002. There was no surprise in their choice of 
President for their new state, the Democratic Republic of East Timor, which 
will be officially born on May 20, 2002.

Xanana Gusmao won a massive 83 per cent of the vote. As Andy Alcock of 
Australia East Timor Friendship Association (SA) pointed out, the people of 
East Timor "have endorsed the new President's deep commitment to 
forgiveness, reconciliation and international social justice.

"The East Timorese are going to need a lot of support to develop their 
nation after the death and destruction that has occurred since 1975 when 
the Indonesian military invaded the tiny nation. This development can only 
occur when there is peace, security and social justice in the region", said 
Mr Alcock.

Two hundred thousand East Timorese lost their lives in the long, courageous 
struggle for freedom and independence. Every family has lost at least one 
member.

After the 1999 referendum in which people overwhelmingly voted for 
independence, the Indonesian military unleashed their regular forces and 
militias  against the people and against the physical structures of the 
country. Everything that could be destroyed was destroyed.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was 
installed with a mandate to provide security and set up a civil service. It 
employed 8500 foreign peacekeepers across the island and more than 1000 
hired experts and volunteers were engaged in different projects.

However, UNTAET's record is not very impressive. The presence of all those 
people in the capital has created an artificial bubble economy to provide 
for the needs of these very people.

East Timor as a whole continues to be one of the poorest nations in the 
world. There is 85-90 per cent unemployment; 40 per cent of the population 
lives in poverty and 80 per cent of the population is illiterate.

The Indonesians occupying forces did not educate or promote the advancement 
of the local people.

The UNTAET has done little if anything to build a sustainable economy 
either. As the head of the UN Administration said, "we did not know how to 
do it".

Seventy-five per cent of East Timorese live in rural areas with coffee as 
the principal crop. Low world prices for coffee and lack of infrastructure 
will not see a quick return for growers.

It is expected that self-sufficiency in agricultural production may be 
achieved in two to three years. Oil gas revenues are not expected soon 
either.

The East Timorese people face many problems on a still long road to a true 
economic independence, peace and security.

They have achieved a great victory despite terrible odds and paid a huge 
price. They have also won deeply felt support and solidarity from the many 
people around the world who followed their courageous struggle.

They are a great inspiration to the many others with similar aspirations. 
Given their resolve and courage there is hope that the East Timorese will 
achieve their goals and enjoy the peace and prosperity that have been 
denied them for such a long time.

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