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East Timor's celebrates ten years as a nation

ABC Radio Australia - May 21, 2012

East Timor had dual celebrations over the weekend, as it marked 10 years of independence and also swore in its third president, Taur Matan Ruak.

Correspondent: Liam Cochrane

Speakers: Father Jose Filipe, parish priest of Liquica church; James Batley, former Australian Ambassador to East Timor

Cochrane: For many in East Timor, the 10th anniversary of Independence Restoration Day has been a time of pride.

This man says: he's happy that independence offers the freedom to move around and join with others to celebrate.

East Timor spent centuries as a Portuguese colony. It was occupied by the Japanese during World War Two and then back to the Portuguese, before a brutal Indonesian occupation began in 1975.

After years of resistance struggles, the people voted overwhelmingly for independence at a UN referendum and the Indonesian forces exacted their revenge by killing, raping and destroying as they left in 1999.

As many as 200 people died in a massacre at a church in Liquica and the parish priest there, Father Jose Filipe, says the joy of freedom is mixed with sorrow.

Filipe: This is the path to our nation becoming independent. This is very important to our nation, and then we hope in this celebration that people also to happy that their family give one sacrifice to this country.

Cochrane: While almost everyone is grateful for peace and proud of the long resistance struggle, balancing respect for the past and the needs of the future, can be tricky.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono attended the independence celebrations and received the Order of Timor medal from outgoing President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Horta: I take this very special occasion to express my country's deepest appreciation for your leadership and the courage and support that you have displayed.

SBY: I am proud to bear witness to the success of my brothers and sisters in Timor Leste.

Cochrane: But the red carpet treatment offered to Indonesia's President is a humiliation to victims, says Jose Luis Oliveira from the National Association of Victims.

Oliveira: They do nothing for these people but in contrary they are doing a lot to just receive the people who make us suffer, very, very painful for them.

Cochrane: For veterans, too, it's a time of mixed feelings.

In Liquica district we meet 58-year old Napoleano Dos Santos Coliati.

Cochrane: He tells us his name has only just been added to a list of recognised resistance fighters that have been promised compensation. But he's heard the promises before and says he's sad many of his friends from the resistance have died without recognition or financial support for their families.

The new President Taur Matan Ruak is a national hero of the resistance and has promised to do more to help veterans, as well as tackle rural poverty, introduce national military service and reduce the country's dependency on oil and gas money. Half the country still lives in poverty and East Timor has a long road ahead of it, but James Batley, who was Australia's ambassador to East Timor 10 years ago, says the change is enormous.

Batley: It's easy to forget just how badly damaged this country was, how traumatised its people were. And I think in the space of ten years to come from that situation to where we've reached now, I think the people of East Timor are really to be congratulated.