The East Timorese government has hit out at the United Nations Development Program saying it's culturally insensitive about issues in the country.
The comments are in response to a UNDP draft report that is highly critical of the government for failing to address rising poverty and joblessness.
Presenter: Claudette Werden
Speakers: Francisco da Costa Guterres, East Timor's State Secretary for Security; Jim Dunn, former adviser to UN Mission in East Timor
Werden: The draft UNDP report acknowledges that progress has been made since the country gained independence in 2002. But the report is critical of the high level of unemployment among young people and rising rural poverty. And it questions the East Timor government's spending of profits from the Timor Sea oil and gas project. But the country's State Secretary for Security, Francisco de Costa Guterres, says the UNDP itself is not doing enough to help the government with the country's problems.
Guterres: The UN doesn't understand the condition of the country, they have been living here for quite some time but they don't know what the government is doing, because many of them haven't visited the villages yet, they haven't visited the remote areas, they are all concentrated in Dili. I don't think this report is valid, the criticism is valid, the UN got a very robust authority, power by the Security Council especially on the security issues but they did nothing.
Werden: James Dunn is a former Australian consul to East Timor and a former advisor to the UN Mission in East Timor. He says he the government has a point.
Dunn: I think the UN should have focused on these long term issues, whereas its main focus particularly when it set out was really to try and set up a government to get to independence as quickly as possible and it really needed to be there longer and to plan for that but you know the big problem was, as I was one of those involved in this, was the major donor nations really wanted this very expensive mission to end as quickly as possible because it was costing a lot, that was the first one, UNTAET, the other missions have been much smaller and their aims and their capacities much more modest.
Werden: But Mr Dunn says the government's biggest mistake was not to pursue the perpetrators of war crimes committed prior to independence and to return to Indonesia without charge a militia leader accused of being behind the 1999 massacre of more than 200 unarmed civilians seeking refuge in a church.
Dunn: This is a serious international crime, so really the Timorese can't simply wipe it out, I mean really the Timorese have stepped beyond their moral authority in saying it's finished let's not talk about it. Maybe they feel that way and I understand why Xanana feels that way because it's about politics, it's about pragmatism but as far as the UN is concerned and as far as those concerned with stamping out crimes against humanity, it is a serious matter that has to be taken further.
Werden: Mr Guterres sees it differently
Guterres: I think the UN doesn't understand the relationship between Timor Leste and Indonesia, they don't understand the complexity of the issue. People from somewhere else they don't understand the culture, the complexity of the issue. I suggest that the UN people, they should be more kind of objective, they should understand more about the country's culture before they talk. If they understand the complexity of the issue they may not come up with some such report.
Werden: The controversial UNDP report is now being reviewed, following a backlash from both government and senior international advisers who question the authors' motives. It'll be released later this year, the United Nations presence in East Timor is expected to continue until national elections, scheduled for 2012.
Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin East Timor's leaders have objected to large sections of a crucial United Nations agency report on the country only weeks before the UN Security Council reconsiders its $200 million a year mission in Dili.
The rejection of the draft Timor-Leste Human Development Report 2010 comes amid growing calls for the UN to end the mission that observers say has failed to achieve its central goal of reforming East Timor's police and security sector.
High-level Timorese and international advisers to the government in Dili made scathing criticisms of the 234-page report compiled by the United Nations Development Program, saying that it is politically biased, cites inaccurate data and most of its conclusions are unsourced.
A UNDP spokeswoman said an independent team producing the report is reviewing the government's comments. She said it is expected the final report would be released some time this year.
A draft copy of the report obtained by the Herald said that while East Timor has made substantial progress since gaining independence in 2002, pervasive problems include high youth unemployment, falling per capita incomes and increasing poverty rates in rural areas.
The report said significant issues facing the country include areas of energy provision, food security and access to education and health services.
Government advisers who read the draft challenged almost all of the assertions in 837 comments that were attached to the report and returned to the UN Development Program.
"The report is fragmented with multiple objectives that are not met in the conclusion of the report," an adviser wrote.
"There is no methodology included in this report to how the strategies were devised and, given the majority of the report is unsourced, this is a major cause for concern."
East Timor leaders were angry the report criticised their opposition to pursuing the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying the UN Development Program should not have strayed from human development issues.
The report said the return to Indonesia without charge of the militia leader Maternus Bere, accused of orchestrating the 1999 massacre of more than 200 people in a church, fuelled increasing awareness among Timorese that there was no longer accountability for crimes.
A government adviser told the UN that it was "inappropriate for the United Nations to intervene in a human development report on diplomatic issues between two countries."
The report also questioned the way East Timor was spending profits from Timor Sea oil and gas, which have been deposited in a Petroleum Fund to be spent by future generations.
Controversy over the report follows a plethora of independent reports criticising the UN mission in East Timor. Edward Rees, a former UN official in New York and Dili, believes it is time for the world to let the Timorese assume total responsibility for their future.
"The Timorese government has elected to largely ignore the UN on matters relating to the reform of the security sector," Mr Rees wrote on a blog.
"Where there have been problems, the presence of a large UN mission has only served to confuse matters, obscuring the fact that in reality Timorese authorities are in charge on the ground, if not yet according to the letter of UN-government agreements," wrote Mr Rees, who is now a senior adviser to the Peace Dividend Trust and travels frequently to East Timor.
The Security Council is expected next month to decide to continue the UN presence in East Timor until after national elections in 2012. However, observers in Dili said East Timor's leaders will welcome a timetable for the UN's withdrawal.
The Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, told the Timorese media before Christmas it was time for foreign forces to leave, including 400 Australian and 75 New Zealand soldiers serving in the International Stabilisation Force. No timetable for their withdrawal has been set.
Matt Crook, Lautem The nuns were creating an almighty din. In one room there was a sister getting down with a keyboard, while in another there were a couple of nuns bashing out chords on guitars.
While not the most gifted musicians of the Catholic Church, the sisters' real talents lie in equipping some of Timor-Leste's poorest young women with skills they can use to find work as the government tries desperately to support its disenfranchised youth demographic.
"Every year, more and more people want to come here to our training centre," said Sister Alexandrina Pinto, the head of the Madalene Morano Women's Skills Training Centre in Los Palos, Lautem district. "This year we had about 250 people apply, but we could only take about 50. We take on the girls who really need our help. When they graduate they get a certificate signed by the government."
Set up in 2002, the center runs one-year courses in secretarial skills and tailoring with the aim of getting young women into the job market with skills that will actually appeal to employers. During the year, students do two months of work experience, often with NGOs or government departments.
"The priority for us are girls who are very poor who can't afford to go to university," said Pinto, adding that the bulk of the teaching is done by two nuns and five other teachers.
The center has been such a success that the government now plans to formally accredited it to deliver a national qualification in Administration and Finance as part of an overarching scheme to bring the country's skills training providers up to scratch.
"Because the teaching here is of a high standard, we support the sisters with funding and with some class materials," said Leonor Bernardo, a technical assistant for on-job training for the Secretariat of State for Vocational Training and Employment (SEFOPE).
Timor-Leste National Qualifications Framework falls under the government's AusAid-supported National Labour Force Development Institute (INDMO), which is developing the registration and accreditation standards, she added.
Having only achieved formal independence in 2002, it's been a rocky few years for East Timor but things are moving forward and the government is keen to move away from the norm of subsistence farming activities, which is no small task given that 80 percent of the population of 1.1 million live in rural areas.
"The real question is how can we care about people who live in rural areas?" said Isabel Fernandes de Lima, the chief secretariat of INDMO. "We have a few institutions at the moment that are quite strong, but in fact, we have almost 100 training providers of varying levels. There are maybe 10 to 15 strong ones, including two institutions that belong to the government."
Working with training providers to boost their capacity is a must if people are going to be able to find gainful employment opportunities, particularly for the country's largely disenfranchised youth demographic, many of whom cannot afford to go through formal education.
The government's new national qualifications framework should also help by giving more training centers the power to award qualifications that will hold weight against those attained in schools and universities
Unemployment among youths in Timor-Leste's urban areas is about 35 percent and there is a great need to develop industries that can absorb the country's jobless young, particularly as their widespread discontent played a role in the violence that erupted in capital Dili in 2006, leading to the displacement of about 150,000 people.
"We have established four sectors: tourism and hospitality; construction; administration finance and IT; and education training assessment, and we are establishing two more sub-commissions automotive and agriculture," said Fernandes.
"First we do the industry analysis before holding a workshop with all the industry people to let them know our results," she said. "These results have to define the levels of the industry's needs. We then establish a sub-commission to endorse competency standards and get training providers registered and accredited."
Tackling unemployment has been a tough task for SEFOPE, an institution that has been strengthened by the International Labour Organization.
Timor-Leste's labour force is in excess of 300,000, and in 2009 the government created about 45,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the private sector only accounts for 40,000 people, most of whom are self-employed.
Through continued support, the nuns at Madalene Morano can now boast that 85 percent of their graduates have found work. But it's just a drop in the ocean; further support is needed if other training centres are going to be able to do the same.
For now, though, the girls who come into contact with the musical nuns of Lautem have a lot to be thankful for.
"When I finished junior high school, my family didn't have enough money to study, so I decided to come here because I knew this center was high quality, so that in the future I can find a job," said student Diana da Costa, 20.
"I have learned about secretarial work, computers, correspondence, communication, education and how to become a good woman," she said. "I want to study so that I can find a job and help support my family."
Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor Julia Gillard's proposal for a regional refugee processing centre in East Timor has been dealt a crippling blow by Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, who says he has no knowledge of the plan.
In an exclusive interview at his prime ministerial office at Putra Jaya, just outside Kuala Lumpur, Mr Najib, when asked whether his government had given any thought to the proposed East Timor centre, said: "No, I've not been alerted about that proposal."
Mr Najib's comment indicates that Ms Gillard's proposal has failed to make any headway in the region, and follows the declaration by East Timor's Deputy Prime Minister, Jose Luis Guterres, this week that the centre should not be built in the fledgling nation and would be better located in Australia.
It also indicates the inability of Canberra to get any regional leaders to take the East Timor idea seriously, despite nearly seven months of ostensible Australian diplomatic and political activism on behalf of the idea.
Ms Gillard lobbied Southeast Asian leaders on the proposed East Timor processing centre at the East Asia summit in Hanoi in November and then went to Malaysia to try to sell it there as well.
Mr Najib was sick during Ms Gillard's visit and she saw Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, who would not commit to the idea. Instead, he said Malaysia would need further information before deciding on its position.
At the time, Mr Muhyiddin said: "We need more information (about the East Timor centre) because there's a lot of implications."
Ms Gillard has repeatedly said the advent of an East Timor centre would require countries in the region to change substantially the way they deal with asylum-seekers, especially those who want to come to Australia. So far no regional leader has supported the idea.
While it is apparent that Ms Gillard's East Timor proposal has gained zero traction with the Malaysians, Mr Najib expressed his determination to stamp out any people-smuggling activities within Malaysia.
Many illegal immigrants who come by boat to Australia transit through Malaysia.
"We definitely would not want Malaysia to be a staging point for people- smuggling," he said. "We will do whatever we have at our disposal to eliminate this. Malaysia wants to work closely with Australia."
Mr Najib confirmed his government had discussed the people-smuggling problem in general with Australia.
"We have been as co-operative and helpful as possible," he said. "In fact, we have interceded in one or two incidents in which people have been apprehended, having been involved in such odious activities as people- smuggling."
The Malaysian Prime Minister revealed plans to visit Australia in March, although precise dates have not yet been finalised.
Sydney East Timor has again rebuffed Canberra's proposal that it host an immigration detention centre where asylum seekers arriving in Australia could be held while their applications for Australian visas were processed, news reports said Monday.
With 109 boats carrying 5,254 asylum seekers arriving last year, and more than 5,000 in detention, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor government is casting around for a way to deter people-smugglers using Indonesia as a transit point to bring mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers into Australia.
The previous Liberal-led government staunched the flow of asylum seekers by packing them off for processing in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru or on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
In the year before Labor came to office only six boats arrived, carrying 60 people. The flow gathered pace after Labor abandoned what former prime minister John Howard had called the Pacific Solution.
East Timor Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres told Portuguese news agency Lusa that the impoverished half-island could not accept Gillard's proposal. "Why not in Australia itself, which has an immense territory and available resources?" Guterres asked in an interview with Lusa in New York.
Gillard stunned Australians in July by saying an offshore immigration detention centre would be built in East Timor.
She admitted later that she had not spoken to East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao about her plan and had only floated the idea with Jose Ramos Horta, who holds the largely ceremonial post of president.
All four parties in East Timor's ruling coalition have rejected the idea. "The prime minister must accept East Timor does not want an asylum-seeker centre," opposition Liberal Party spokeswoman on foreign affairs Julie Bishop said.
Spokesman on immigration Scott Morrison also said Gillard should admit the bid was over: "The East Timor processing centre is a thought bubble that has popped."
Lindsay Murdoch Another senior East Timor leader has questioned Prime Minister Julia Gillard's plan to build a regional centre to process asylum seekers in East Timor, suggesting Australia would be a better place.
Jose Luis Guterres, East Timor's deputy Prime Minister, told the Portuguese newsagency Lusa that perhaps it would be better if the centre was built elsewhere than his country.
"Why not in Australia itself, which has an immense territory and available resources?" Mr Guterres said. Advertisement: Story continues below
Mr Guterres also suggested that Australia should invest in the countries of origin of the asylum seekers "so as to avoid the problems that cause illegal immigration, trafficking, that affects many people".
Speaking while attending a United Nations meeting in New York, Mr Guterres reconfirmed East Timor's position only to talk about Ms Gillard's controversial proposal at a 50-nation meeting on people smuggling called the Bali Process.
Observers doubt the ministerial-level meeting which has yet to be scheduled will be able to agree on a regional centre being built in East Timor amid fears it could become a target destination for people smugglers' boats.
All of East Timor's political parties have said they oppose the centre being built in their country, including the ruling coalition's four parties.
But Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao referred the issue to the Bali Process after Ms Gillard said before last year's federal election that she wanted the centre to be built in East Timor.
Dili, East Timor East Timorese police evicted more than 1,000 long-term squatters from a former Indonesian barracks in Dili Thursday, sparking a rowdy protest.
Poor families had been living in almost 120 houses in the Bairro-Pite district of West Dili since Indonesian security forces evacuated the capital in the aftermath of a bloody independence referendum in 1999.
Witnesses said more than 100 police smashed doors and windows as they forced residents out of the leafy neighbourhood.
"It's been done by force as if we're animals," said East Timor Labour Advocacy Institute director Domingos Araujo Baptista, who represents the squatters. "They're adamant about evicting us. Evictions like this are commonly practised by dictatorial regimes it's against human rights."
Shouting anti-government slogans, about 50 people marched around the city and protested in front of the presidential palace and parliament building after the evictions.
The government reportedly warned residents to leave and paid $2,000 compensation to each of the 150 families affected.
Baptista said the residents, who are demanding $4,000 per family, had not been consulted. "This eviction is illegal and unfair because there's been no negotiation between us and the government," he said.
The government plans to turn the properties into homes for police officers.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, won its freedom from Indonesia in a UN-backed referendum marred by violence that left an estimated 1,400 people dead. It gained formal independence in 2002.
East Timor is seeking to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations.
The country plans to submit an official letter of application to the Asean Secretariat in Indonesia next month, according to Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.
"Asean will discuss East Timor's application," Mr Kasit said earlier this month during a two-day official visit to Asia's youngest nation.
The minister said East Timor's membership would elevate Asean's profile by enabling it to boast of having two Nobel peace laureates.
The minister was apparently referring to Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the peace prize in 1991, and serving East Timorese President Jose Ramos- Horta, who won the award in 1996 for his efforts to secure independence for his country.
Ramos-Horta spoke to the Bangkok Post's Thanida Tansubhapol in Dili about the prospect of his nation joining Asean.
Q: You have been campaigning for East Timor's membership in Asean for some time. How did that come about?
A: My idea to join Asean goes back to 1974. At that time, I was still young but I was foreign affairs spokesman for my political party. I visited Indonesia in June 1974 and met then-Indonesian foreign minister Adam Malik. Upon my return to East Timor, I thought we should join Asean soon after independence.
Circumstances began to change in 1998-99. East Timor became fully independent [in 2002] after a few years of difficulty but the economy went well. We have shown to the Asean leaders that East Timor could be a very constructive, moderate member.
Q: How did East Timor move towards that goal after getting independence?
A: Since independence, our foreign policy looked carefully at what Asean countries' rules were before taking a step [towards applying for Asean membership]. Every time there was an election in the United Nations Assembly for any UN bodies, we always supported Asean candidates. In our preferential vote, we always gave priority to Asean countries to show we had sensitivity and loyalty to Asean. So I believe they can trust us even though we have not reached the level of economic and social development like [the other member nations]. But maybe when we join, our path of development can accelerate.
Q: What responses have you received from Asean?
A: The responses have been enthusiastic. Indonesia is chairman of Asean and is proactive in advocating our membership and even providing technical and diplomatic advice on how to take steps towards Asean membership. For the past three years, the senior Indonesia ambassador had been assigned by the Indonesian president to assist us on the issue.
All Asean countries have been very much involved and engaged in the nation-building of East Timor. They have troops and police here.
Q: When do you intend to join Asean?
A: I'd prefer to join Asean this year during the Indonesian chairmanship, maybe this November, because it will be symbolic that East Timor can join under the Indonesia presidency. It will be great for public relations, not only for Indonesia but for Asean. [Indonesia and East Timor] have had a bitter relationship in the past.
Q: If East Timor is accepted as an Asean member, would the formal admission be undertaken next year?
A: It's possible. They say East Timor can join now and then develop the five-year programme whereby we would gradually move forward step by step toward fulfilling whatever we have to fulfill. Rather than having conditionality now like an observer and then move on to full membership, why not do it the other way round to become a member and then have five years where we should fulfill other conditions to reform our power integration and trade laws.
Q: As the leader of a prospective Asean member, what would you like to leave as a message for Asean people and their leaders?
A: People in the Asean region have a strong sympathy and solidarity toward East Timor. We have received so much support from officials and common people and civil society.
For Asean leaders, I would say to them that, rest assured, East Timor feels more nationally, emotionally and culturally [a part of] Southeast Asia.
We are very proud to be part of this region. For hundreds of years, [Southeast Asia] has all been disconnected through colonial history, through wars. Asean came to unite the people of Southeast Asia with a common vision of peace, security, stability and prosperity.
East Timor is the only missing link because of history, not because of geography.
So for the 10 Asean leaders, they should look at East Timor as their "missing child" after hundreds of years of the storms that have affected the region the storm of colonial occupations and invasions through the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the tremendous tragedy in Cambodia.
But now Asean is consolidated and [the leaders] should say, "We cannot leave this child of our continent alone".
Sara Everingham A bitter dispute between East Timor's Government and the Australian-based oil and gas company Woodside is continuing.
Woodside and East Timor can't agree on how to process gas from the Greater Sunrise field in the Timor Sea.
In its latest criticism, the East Timor Government said Woodside's behaviour means the company has had to suspend its operations on Greater Sunrise.
The Government's spokeman Agio Pereira said since 2008 the company had bypassed established mechanisms for negotiation, which has resulted in substantial and costly delays to the project. Mr Pereira said Woodside and its shareholders are now paying the price.
A spokeswoman for Woodside said the company was continuing to develop the Sunrise project in accordance with all the rules put in place by the governments of Australia and East Timor.
Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin A proposal has emerged for Woodside to supply gas for East Timor's domestic consumption as a way to break a deadlock in negotiations over the multibillion-dollar Greater Sunrise field in the Timor Sea.
But East Timor is still insisting the Perth-based company drop its plans to build one of the world's first floating liquefied natural gas platforms at the field and instead bring all of the gas to a processing plant in East Timor.
The proposal is to provide a small amount of Greater Sunrise's gas for an LNG plant that East Timor wants to build at Beaco Beach, near Viquque, on the south coast, where the government has set aside 250 hectares of land.
No plans for the supply of gas have been tabled in formal negotiations, which remain acrimonious after months of high-stakes claims and counterclaims.
A Woodside spokeswoman denied an offer has been made to build a domestic gas pipeline to East Timor.
"The floating LNG option maximises total petroleum revenue to Timor-Leste and Australia," the spokeswoman said. "The joint venture is committed to redelivering sustainable benefits to the people of Timor-Leste," she said.
East Timor has spent tens of millions of dollars commissioning studies it said showed a pipeline could be built from the field to East Timor across a deep seabed trench.
The Woodside spokeswoman said a floating LNG plant remained its preferred development option. Woodside chose the floating platform ahead of piping the gas from the field to East Timor or to an existing processing plant in Darwin.
In recent weeks the government in Dili has warned of the potential cost blowouts of building a floating platform, and accused Woodside of making misleading statements about the project.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has repeatedly said his country is not prepared to forgo billions of dollars from Greater Sunrise, making a stand against corporate giants that plunder the resources of tiny nations.
Despite the deadlock, East Timor has allocated $US12.4 million for research and studies relating to an LNG processing plant at Beaco Beach, including marine studies and site survey, design and supervision.
It is also planning to spend at least US$36 million to develop a south coast petroleum infrastructure corridor. The government has said it wants the LNG plant at Beaco Beach to have a production capacity for up to 20 million tonnes per annum of LNG.
La'o Hamutuk, a non-government-organisation in Dili that closely monitors Greater Sunrise developments, said in a report that it seemed unlikely any studies or information from East Timor would change Woodside's view that a floating LNG platform would be $US2 billion cheaper than bringing gas to be processed on-shore.
"If Woodside is not persuaded, the project will remain stalled and Timor- Leste's $US12.4 million or more will have provided work for foreign consultants and contractors, but no benefits for our people," La'o Hamutuk said.
Under agreements reached in 2007, East Timor and Australia would equally share profits from the Greater Sunrise field, which is a joint development area of the Timor Sea.
Woodside is the operator of the Greater Sunrise joint venture that includes ConocoPhillips, Shell and Osaka Gas.
Lindsay Murdoch A Victorian charity has hired architects to design a hotel in the ruins of the centuries-old Balibo fort in East Timor where five Australian-based journalists were killed before obtaining final approval for the project.
The Balibo House Trust has raised most of the money needed to build the hotel in the fort where the journalists, known as the Balibo Five, were filming in 1975 when they were killed by Indonesian forces.
The Portuguese-era fort is one of East Timor's oldest and most important heritage sites.
Nuno Olideira, an adviser to East Timor's Secretary of State for Culture, said the trust, which has obtained a 30-year lease over the site, should have first discussed cultural and heritage issues with his office before hiring architects.
Mr Olideira told The Age it was unfortunate East Timor was still developing legislation to protect its cultural heritage sites. The trust's board members, he said, "come from a country where that sort of legislation is in place. They would deal with the appropriate institutions there, which they didn't do here."
Former Victorian MP Rob Hudson, the trust's chairman, told The Age the project would not go ahead without the approval of the Balibo community and the government in Dili, including the Secretary of State for Culture, Virgilio Smith, who visited the fort recently and discussed the project with the trust's architects.
"We will not be doing anything without the approval of the Secretary of State for Culture," Mr Hudson said. "We will be giving them all the time they need."
He said there had been no local opposition to the project and East Timor's Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, had supported the trust obtaining its lease over the site. Several other government leaders in Dili had also shown support.
Mr Hudson said the fort hotel would promote tourism and training and employment for the local community. Under the plans, people would be encouraged to visit the fort, which has been neglected for years. The project would provide jobs for 15 to 20 local people during construction and continuing employment for Timorese once completed.
Mr Hudson declined to reveal the cost and details of the hotel. The plans are believed to include refurbishment of an existing house in the ruins, where squatters have lived for years.
Contacted by The Age, Mr Smith referred questions about the project to Mr Olideira, who is an archaeologist. "Unfortunately, there has not been any major archaeological investigation into the fort to see how old it is," Mr Olideira said. "It's an important historical site."
Mr Olideira said until legislation was in place, developments such as the one proposed for the fort needed to be worked out on a "commonsense basis."
The Balibo House Trust was formed by the Victorian government in 2002 to maintain the Balibo flag house that was the Balibo Five's last refuge before they were killed. The refurbished house near the fort is now used as a community learning centre and library.
Jia You Many things could come to mind when one imagines a hospital; but could livestock be one of them?
Visit East Timor's national hospital in 2008, and you'd see goats, pigs and chickens wandering around the premises. These walking health hazards had persisted for two years because their owners, some 1,500 refugees encamped on paths of the hospital, had lost everything else to the arson and looting that had rampaged the capital city, Dili, in 2006.
One tenth of East Timor's population had been displaced during the crisis, which erupted with fighting between police and the army; this quickly escalated into widespread communal violence. The crisis has torn the country apart and revealed the deep scars left on Timorese society after 24 years of Indonesian occupation.
The year 1975 was a turning point in the history of East Timor. The nation had declared independence from Portugal that same year, after rejecting neighboring Indonesia's offer of annexation. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Indonesia the following month, amidst rumors of an impending Indonesian invasion; the day they left the country, Indonesian paratroops landed on Timor Island.
"The Indonesians told us that they were going to occupy the Portuguese colony of Timor," Kissinger recalled 20 years later, when questioned by activists during a speech on his new book, Diplomacy. "To us that did not seem like a very significant event... so when the Indonesians informed us, we neither said yes or no."
Instead, the administration doubled American weapon supply to Indonesia over the next three years weapons the Indonesian troops used to massacre thousands of Timorese every year. To Ford and Carter, what mattered was not human rights records, but Indonesia's strategic value as an anti-communist ally in Southeast Asia.
Until the Cold War ended, American ambassadors at the United Nations would block the UN from any effective action in East Timor, while the administration would consistently supply military aid to Indonesia. These refills continued even when they violated US laws prohibiting the shipment of American weapons to countries that used them for aggression. As a result, one third of East Timor's pre-occupation population disappeared.
The story could have been different. The same year the UN finally held a referendum in East Timor to determine its future status, NATO began to bomb Serbia in retaliation for killing ethnic Albanians in its Kosovo province. Serbian forces withdrew that very year, and Kosovo achieved independence nine years later. It took 27 years for East Timor to reach this kind of freedom.
And the scars of occupation didn't heal with the independence. Years of occupation and resistance had drained East Timor's economic resources and divided the country between the veteran resistance fighters in the East and pro-integration militia in the West. In Dili, where new arrivals from both regions competed for limited economic opportunities, such division bred a fertile ground for conflict. For this reason, discrimination against Westerners in the army created a national crisis in 2006 and turned the Dili National Hospital into a refugee camp.
But East Timor has some good news this year: The refugees have finally returned home. All refugee camps closed at the end of last year, and only 52 families remained in transitory shelters as of January 2010. What put an end to the tents was the UN peace-building mission, or the United Nations Integrated Missions in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).
Deployed immediately after the 2006 crisis, UNMIT played an instrumental role in restoring stability in East Timor through its efforts in bridging political dialogues, reforming the security sector, and coordinating humanitarian relief for the refugees. The extent of UNMIT success was put to test when a radical faction of the army attacked the Timorese president and the prime minister in 2008. Contrary to the 2006 crisis, society remained stable, and the newly-elected democratic government resolved the crisis peacefully and constitutionally.
East Timor's recent recovery once again attests to the importance of UN peacekeeping and peace-building efforts in vulnerable states. Yet the US has a poor track record in supporting the UN financially. In 2009 alone, US debt accounted for 90 percent of all member state debts to the UN regular budget, and Fiscal Year 2010 was the first time the US paid off its debt to the United Nations since the early 1980s.
While East Timor is on the road to recovery, a similar tragedy is ongoing in Indonesia, and the Obama administration could be perpetuating that tragedy. The administration recently lifted a decade-long ban on US training and military assistance to Indonesia's special force Kopassus in an effort to strengthen bilateral cooperation in anti-terrorism.
Kopassus has a notorious human rights record: it was involved in the killing of five Australian journalists in East Timor prior to the full- scale Indonesian invasion, and it has retained and promoted soldiers convicted of kidnapping student activists in 1997 and 1998.
Yet the crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. As Obama touched down in Indonesia, secret files leaked from the Kopassus showed the Kopassus engaged in systematically murdering and abducting civilian targets in the West Papua, another region annexed by Indonesia.
Apparently, not all are oblivious to what's at stake. House representative Patrick Kennedy (D-Indonesia) submitted Resolution 1355 in May that calls for the Indonesian government to stop human rights abuses in West Papua. The resolution is currently endorsed by twenty representatives. None of them are from the Illinois General Assembly. It is time we remember the story of East Timor. We have reached a critical juncture, where our decisions could determine whether history repeats itself.
As President Obama nostalgically praised the Indonesian meatball soup during a visit to his former country this November, he has perhaps forgotten another childhood memory.
"We had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times," wrote President Obama in his book, Dreams from My Father.
He was referring to the mass killing of communist sympathizers during General Suharto's 1965 coup.
Few remember that America actively supported Suharto's authoritarian regime and its invasion of East Timor, a country on the south of the Indonesian archipelago. Now, as East Timor continues to suffer the repercussions of the occupation eight years after regaining its independence, President Obama could be shaping policies that perpetuate a similar tragedy as he seeks to strengthen ties with Indonesia.