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East Timor News Digest 7 – July 1-31, 2011

Political parties & elections

Refugees & asylum seekers Ethnic & social conflicts Transport & communication Mining & energy Analysis & opinion

Political parties & elections

Major General Taur Matan Ruak to run in 2012 presidential election

Tempo Semanal - July 13, 2011

Reliable Tempo Semanal sources said that the Chief of the East Timorese Defence Force, FALINTIL-FDTL has strongly indicated in public and in private that it is his intention to soon resign from the defence force because he intends to run in the 2012 Presidential election.

Ruak's most serious competition on the Presidential elections likely includes FRETILIN's President Fransisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, current President Jose Ramos-Horta, and the President of the National Parliament Fernando Lasama. Some indications include that Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres will also candidate himself.

According to Tempo Semanal sources General Ruak will resign from the national defence force by the end of the year and quickly announce his candidacy as a civilian citizen for the Presidency in early 2012.

According to Tempo Semanal sources, General Ruak informed the President of the Republic Jose Ramos-Horta in late June 2011 that it was his intention to run for the Presidency. President Ramos-Horta indicated to General Ruak that it was 90% certain he would not run for the Presidency again. According to TS sources President Ramos-Horta shortly afterward met with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and the Secretary-General of FRETILIN Mari Alkatiri and informed them that General Ruak intended to resign from the defence force and candidate himself for Presidency.

After hearing that General Ruak intends to run for the Presidency on 22 June 2011 President Ramos-Horta indicated that he is almost certain he will not seek re-election.

General Ruak is known to have strong popularity in the ranks of the FRETILIN Opposition but is also known to have strong ties to Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao based on common experience in the guerrilla struggle. General Ruak's position as a military officer has been carefully independent of political party position, but it is known that he privately questions the agendas of many civilian political leaders. According the TS sources General Ruak understands that he can only play a role in national politics as a civilian, so he must resign from the defence force.

Major-General Taur Matan Ruak is a 24-year veteran of the armed struggle against Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999. However, he is not of the older generation who played leadership roles in the 1975 civil war. He is both of the past and the present and the future.

General Ruak was a field commander in FALINTIL during the 1980s and 1990s. After Xanana Gusmao the commander of FALINTIL was captured in 1992 and later on Konis Santana was declared field commander in 1993 Ruak was appointed Chief of Staff of FALINTIL with responsibility for military operations.

After Santana died in March 1998 Ruak was appointed field commander of FAILINTIL. In 2000 upon the resignation of now Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao from FALINTIL, Ruak became commander of FALINTIL. On 1 February 2001 FALINTIL was transformed into the modern defence force FALINTIL-FDTL.

Between 2001 and 2006 Ruak was the lead uniformed defence leader in Timor- Leste under the civilian leadership of the FRETILIN government. Ruak came under considerable pressure in 2006 and 2007 for the real and perceived mistakes made by the defence force during the crisis.

Since 2007 under the civilian leadership of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and the Secretary of State for Defence Julio Pinto, Ruak has made many changes in the defence force. Numerous soldiers have been rewarded from professional success and a large number have been dismissed for misconduct and even crimes that the civilan justice system cannot process. The defence force is also in a stage of advanced development regarding naval and even air components and is soon the join international peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon in the UN peacekeeping mission UNIFIL.

General Ruak "Jose Maria Vasconselos" is from Baguia subdistrict in Baucau. He speaks Makassae, Naueti, Tetun and Portuguese. He is also a self-taught English speaker. He is known, as being a strong-minded frontal personality who has conviction is positions. General Ruak was recommended for prosecution by the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry into the event of the crisis of 2006. He is also known to have fully cooperated with this commission in its fact-finding efforts. He was subsequently cleared of allegations.

General Ruak is married to Isabel Ferriera of Manufahi District and has three children, two daughters and one son.

Refugees & asylum seekers

Timor supports Malaysia deal

Australian Associated Press - July 25, 2011

Larine Statham – East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta says he supports Australia's refugee swap deal with Malaysia.

Dr Ramos Horta on Monday said he was glad Australia had found a solution to its asylum seeker "dilemma" several months after it sought to build a detention centre in East Timor.

"I think Nauru is back on track. I hear Solomon Islands is interested and Papua New Guinea," he told reporters in Darwin.

"And so for us it's fine that the Timor option is more or less on hold. We haven't pursued any further discussions with the Australian side on the Timor option.

"And you know, in the end, our demands and our expectations would be such that I don't think we could bridge the difference between our approach and Australia's.

"If we were to do, at least in my view as a humanist and Timorese leader, it would be a very humane processing centre facility and not at all a detention centre."

He reiterated statements he made during negotiations, that any centre in East Timor would be temporary.

"If at one point we decide 'sorry, we are not going to continue', the facility would be closed down and all the infrastructure built by Australia would be handed over to us."

He said he did not know a lot about the deal between Malaysia and Australia, nor was he familiar with conditions in Malaysian detention centres.

The United Nations had originally been concerned the agreement could breach international refugee rights, but the UN is believed now to be supportive of the swap.

"I think Australia and Malaysia work hard to find this creative solution, which seems to make sense, but for us, we totally sympathise with Australia's dilemma," Dr Ramos Horta said.

"They are not coming to East Timor, they are not going to Indonesia. Australia and New Zealand are the attractive propositions for anyone fleeing poverty and violence in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Sri Lanka. If Australia has found a solution with Malaysia, we can only support it."

Dr Ramos Horta was in Darwin to speak at the Property Council of Australia 2011 Congress alongside former defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove and for the launch of East Timor's international airline, Timor Air. The new airline will make daily flights between Darwin and Dili.

Ethnic & social conflicts

East Timor beefs up security after shootings

ABC News - July 20, 2011

Police in East Timor have started a major security operation in Dili, following several shootings in the capital.

According to local media reports, the National Police will set up checkpoints and conduct an illegal weapons search in every suburb of the city. It comes after a Fatuhada woman and a Bidau youth were shot in separate attacks last week.

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta has reportedly met with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to discuss the recent violence. The President told local media the shootings are by people who want to create instability within the community in exchange for money.

Nelson Belo, from Timorese NGO Fundasaun Mahhein, warned the comments could spark public panic. He told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program the President should not have commented until the all the facts were known.

"The President shouldn't make a comment based on his feelings, he should make a comment based on credible information from state institutions."

Representatives from the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste were unavailable for comment.

Transport & communication

Timor Air reaches for the skies

ABC Radio Australia - July 26, 2011

Tiny East Timor has its first airline. Timor Air was launched yesterday and will operate daily flights between Dili, and Darwin in northern Australia.

The new airline is the initiative of businessman Jerry Desousa. He fled Timor-Leste after 1975 and eventually became a successful businessman with a property and maintenance firm, then returned to Timor.

Presenter: Bill Bainbridge

Speaker: Jerry Desousa, founder of Timor Air

Desousa: Yes it went fantastic, the President was very happy with the flight and the aircraft performed very well, and we got in time just to have a local media conference and then I had to hurry back because we had to get off very quickly, otherwise we would have to overnight there.

Bainbridge: And so why does East Timor need its own airline, I mean there are other airlines that fly there already, why does it need a national carrier?

Desousa: Because the other airlines that are flying there they're not Timorese airlines. Timor Air is essentially Timorese airline, it will carry the pride and the aspirations of the people that have been through so much. And it is of course will promote Timorese culture and the Timorese people and will encourage people like you Bill to visit East Timor and the experience the rich and very adaptable culture.

Bainbridge: So you're not doing this on your own, who are your partners in this venture?

Desousa: I am a partner with Vincent Aviation, a very dynamic, young but very forward looking airline that is based both in Wellington, New Zealand, and in Darwin.

Bainbridge: And so you said you wanted people like me to come and visit Timor, who are you actually aiming at mainly; tourists or business travellers or both?

Desousa: Anybody who comes to Timor will spend money there to help the people all over the country. And obviously we would like to promote the tourism and the government of Timor Leste is very keen and as the President said in his speech at the launch, he's aiming at the Timorese ex-pat in Darwin and other places in Australia to go back. Right now the price is very prohibitive and they don't just go there as is because it costs.

Bainbridge: But when other people have tried to get airlines or flights off the ground from say between Timor and Denpasar, the existing carriers have cut their prices pretty dramatically and driven them off the island. Are you prepared if there's a price war, do you have the funds to keep going through that?

Desousa: Well I'm not contemplating that Bill, but this is the reality of business. Naturally I looked at it very carefully, we placed our trust with the people that flew. I think that they have for 11 years experience in expensive and very, very unfriendly hours to fly. So what I'm trying to do Bill is to introduce a more civilised hour of flying and of course more friendly, and more importantly of course it is the image of East Timor. So you make up your mind, I mean if there was going to be we charge the same then who would you prefer to fly? And the other thing is I'm trying also to make sure that Timorese people knows how to fix aircraft, and maybe at some stage also flying. Right now we don't have anybody, there's an airline that flew to Timor now for 11 years, not one Timorese employed in the industry.

Bainbridge: But there is a very large operation being put together currently with Portuguese and money from the Gulf. Do you think you're going to be able to compete with that outfit when it's up and running?

Desousa: Well Bill I would like to see it first. It has taken me nine years Bill to put this little one together, so there is so many people in Timor that wants to put an airline together, it's nothing wrong to have business, Timorese people to do things. But doing it is another thing altogether.

Bainbridge: Ok and just very briefly at the moment you're only flying to Australia. Do you have plans in the short-term of expanding your services to other destinations?

Desousa: Absolutely, absolutely.

Mining & energy

Leader hopes for East Timor gas resolution

ABC News - July 26, 2011

East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta says the Australian company Woodside Petroleum is taking a stubborn approach to debate on the Greater Sunrise gas field.

East Timor says the gas should be funnelled to the island nation, but the company wants to process it on a floating platform.

Negotiations have stalled over the field, which could be worth $AU13 billion to East Timor. The new financial year brings a new chief executive to Woodside and President Ramos Horta says he hopes that will make a difference.

"Previous CEO of Woodside who already left, he was not even willing to talk about the Timor Leste option which is unacceptable even from an investor's point of view," he said.

Analysis & opinion

Cuba nurses East Timor to health and gives Australia a medical lesson

Brisbane Times - July 23, 2011

What do Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, and Richard Marles, the parliamentary secretary for Pacific island affairs in the Gillard government, have in common?

Answer: both are visiting Havana, Cuba, at the moment for reasons of a medical nature.

The leader of the Bolivarian revolution is getting follow-up cancer treatment in a Cuban hospital, courtesy of his friend and guiding light, Fidel Castro.

Julia Gillard's junior minister is there to talk about linking up the health assistance programs of Cuba and Australia in the small countries of our region, including East Timor and the Pacific island states.

There is a considerable irony here. Older readers will recall that preventing "another Cuba" popping up in the middle of south-east Asia was cited in 1975 as a reason Australia and its allies tacitly supported the Indonesian annexation of the abandoned Portuguese colony of East Timor.

At the time, Cuba was actively supporting armed communist movements elsewhere in Latin America and in several African countries, notably the former Portuguese colony of Angola, and East Timor came under control of the Fretilin movement.

Fretilin was indeed imbued with the liberation ideology of the times, its leaders getting around in jungle green uniforms, giving the clenched fist salute, and talking about sending out brigades of its cadres to transform the countryside.

Thanks in part to the interventions of those well-known revolutionaries John Howard and Alexander Downer, East Timor became independent from Indonesian rule in May 2002 with a new government run by Fretilin, and a military-fatigues-wearing former guerrilla leader with a beard, Jose Xanana Gusmao, as president.

About nine months later, Gusmao got talking to Castro at a non-aligned nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Hearing about the new nation's appalling social indicators (life expectancy, infant mortality etc) and gathering population explosion, Castro immediately offered "a thousand doctors".

This has turned out to be no empty promise. Cuba has built up its medical "brigade" in East Timor to 278 Cuban doctors, some in the central hospital in the capital, Dili, but most in the 12 districts where they are deployed at sub-district clinics.

In addition, the first of about 700 Timorese sent to medical schools in Cuba under scholarships provided by Havana graduated last year, after six years of study, and also have been sent out to local medical units. A further 150 Timorese have been studying in the faculty of medicine set up with Cuban assistance at the National University in Dili in December 2005.

It has become the biggest Cuban health assistance program outside Latin America. East Timor has never had an intensity of medical services across its population like this, and the example has been copied by the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which also have sent medical students to Cuba.

Doctors are Cuba's best-known exports, along with cigars and rum. This is a money earner with larger, resource-rich partners such as Venezuela and Bolivia. In places like Timor, students are trained free, and meagre home salaries kept up for the Cuban doctors assigned abroad (with local governments providing a monthly allowance of $US150 [$139] to $US200, plus board and lodgings).

On the face of it, Fidel Castro seems to have done a miraculous thing: delinking the medical profession from the goal of making large amounts of money. At the same time, Cuba itself has improved some of its social indicators to a better level than those in the United States.

Compared with other Third World countries with good universities like India and South Africa, it has a relatively small brain drain of trained medicos and nurses to rich countries.

Of course the country is miserably poor, and subject to rigid political repression. Once the lid is off, we may hear that things are not so rosy, just as the heroic quota-doubling Stakhanovites of Stalin's five-year plans and the Mao-era "iron men" of China's Daqing oil fields were shown to be propaganda creations. Cuban exiles in Florida claim the doctors are "prisoners" put to work.

But Cuba is losing only about 2 per cent of its doctors a year to migration, and that is not for lack of opportunity to escape. About 28,000 of its 70,000 doctors are assigned or working abroad. Its medical qualifications are recognised in the United States and many other countries – it even has about 100 Americans studying in Cuban medical schools, which are much better respected than the various "Caribbean" schools favoured by some Americans who can't get into US medical colleges.

For a country like East Timor, the particular attraction of the Cuban assistance is not just the provision of large numbers of low-wage doctors. The Cubans come and work under the local health department, not in separate clinics reporting to a foreign aid agency. The foreign expertise is a holding operation until the local personnel are trained up over six years to replace them.

Western government aid agencies such as Australia's AusAid are often criticised for setting up expensive systems that fall apart when the foreign experts are withdrawn. Indeed our whole aid program is under fire for essentially awarding large contracts to Australian-based consultants, often former aid officials themselves, who know how to process the huge amount of paperwork and compliance detail the system generates.

Our investment in human talent is quite meagre: about 20 scholarships for East Timorese, compared with the hundreds from Cuba (admittedly on very lean individual costs).

Tim Anderson, a lecturer in political economy at Sydney University, suggests the answer is co-ordinating our programs with those of Cuba, rather than ignoring them or trying to compete. Marles seems to have joined the revolution. Viva Gillard!

Timor-Leste and a lethargic new generation

Irrawaddy - July 14, 2011

Matt Crook, Dili – It was a humid night and I wandered home in the dark, cursing the government of Timor-Leste for yet another power cut in Dili, the country's tiny capital.

I was lumbering up the road to my house, illuminating my path with my mobile to avoid the crater-like potholes, when I heard someone call out. "Eh, malae!" said the voice, "malae" being the Timorese word for foreigner. I looked to my right and saw a group of youths sat atop the burned-out shell of what had at one time been a car. I thought for a minute and then decided to throw caution to the wind. Before long I was sat on top of the car knocking back home-brewed palm brandy and snacking on uncooked instant noodles.

I got to know that group of lads quite well over the next few months. Any night when I was at a loose end I'd venture down the road and sure enough they'd all be there, sat on top of their rusting hunk of metal. We usually drank until well into the night and I used to help them scrape together a buck or two to pay for the liquor, but I soon became aware that these guys didn't really have anything else to do besides hanging out on the side of the road, a familiar sight down almost any of Dili's streets.

None of them ever had phone credit and there was a lethargy about them that was hard to miss. They would sometimes ask me if I knew of any jobs going, but in a small Southeast Asian nation, ravaged by 24 years of illegal occupation by the Indonesian military, development has progressed slowly and these future breadwinners in what is a male-dominated society are still bread-less.

The only jobs these young chaps could envisage themselves doing were things like driving taxis, working as security guards or – and this one was the Holy Grail – leaving East Timor and travelling to the UK to work in a factory on a Portuguese passport, taking advantage of Timor-Leste's colonial past.

It's easy to pass off Timor-Leste's youth unemployment problem as something that just takes a while to overcome, but post-conflict countries don't have the luxury of time. When the UN arrived in 1999 to help secure independence, it operated a top-down approach that all but ignored the needs of the people at the grassroots level, the guys who would end up sat on top of burned-out cars, and it was their dissatisfaction with independence that played a significant role in the violence of 2006.

The riots of 2006 weren't supposed to happen and they certainly weren't supposed to leave 37 people dead and 150,000 displaced. The international community had helped the nation formally achieve its independence in 2002, but then as the UN scaled back it left behind a weak democracy and a divided society.

Timor-Leste is a young nation in every respect, with about half of the population of 1.1 million aged below the age of 17, according to the World Bank. Women have, on average, six children each and the youth demographic (12-29) makes up more than one-third of the population.

In 2006, when a labour dispute in the armed forces escalated into a crisis that brought the country to its knees, the international community had little choice but to admit the shortcomings of international aid as disenfranchised youths went out onto the streets and fought with neither rhyme nor reason.

Timor-Leste's youths have struggled to conceptualize their national identity outside of their country's independence struggle. The unification of the people within what became "Timor-Leste" simply didn't happen in the beginning and and what divides there were became institutionalized and politicized as the elites squabbled among themselves for the spoils of the state.

Youth unemployment peaks at more than 40 percent in Timor-Leste's urban centers and yet successive governments have been unable to tackle this because they've had security issues top of their agenda. The Secretariat of State for Vocational Training and Employment (SEFOPE) hasn't had the capacity to put the pieces together, but things are changing.

Timor-Leste is still a predominantly agricultural country and the government and its partners have been working hard to create gainful employment opportunities for young people, especially in rural areas as the cities can't cope with the influx of jobless youths.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) took the bull by the horns early on with what it called an "unusual approach" to employment generation.

ILO started delivering activities through SEFOPE, rather than utilizing the standard method of creating a team of skilled national personnel on unsustainable UN salaries, which often leads to project collapse once the program closes.

ILO's support of SEFOPE has brought the government closer to skills training providers and micro-finance institutions, bolstering the capacity of each and opening up new opportunities for short- and long-term employment. I saw various employment-generating projects as I travelled around the country meeting young blacksmiths, artists, laborers and groups producing everything from coconut oil to tofu.

With a state budget of more than a billion dollars for 2011 – by far the largest in the country's history – there are high hopes among the Timorese people that their government will be able to come good on promises to replace conflict with development... permanently.

As for my little gang on the car, the last I heard one had left Timor-Leste for the UK and the rest were muddling through on cockfight winnings and handouts from their families. The car wreck, however, had been removed, towed away in the dead of the night.

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