Indonesia: UNTAET After Nine Months

2000

James Dunn

The reconstruction of East Timor still has a long way to go. Much of Dili’s central business area is still in ruins, its redevelopment being hampered by ownership disputes, sometimes involving property acquired illegally by the Indonesian military. Indonesians are now starting to reassert their ownership claims, some of which are contentious. UNTAET does not yet appear to have carried out a professional assessment of the extent of the material damage resulting from the TNI/militia rampage. But progress is being made:

The general housing situation has greatly improved, especially in Dili where most dwellings have at least been temporarily repaired.

Most power stations and other utilities are again in operation.

Security, food supply and health services have improved, and the medical situation is now being more comprehensively monitored than ever before.

According to the World Bank the territory’s GNP is now over US$500. This may have been somewhat inflated by the considerable foreign business activities in East Timor.

The agriculture sector is reportedly recovering at a quite brisk pace, and with improved techniques, output should reach record levels in the next year or so. The production of rice, however, is still suffering from last year’s events, which seriously damaged irrigation systems.

Over 170,000 children are back in primary schools but there are still serious problems with education, including a drastic shortage of school staff, the need to redesign the school syllabus, and the reintroduction of Portuguese as the official language, a change resented by students educated to tertiary level in Bahasa Indonesia. The University of East Timor, which was badly trashed, is reopening this month, after an unfortunate delay.

On the down side:

UNTAET has failed to reduce the massive level of unemployment in urban areas, which has contributed to social unrest, increased petty crime and occasional demonstrations outside UN offices. The contrast between the position of the Timorese, and the incomes and life-styles of UN employees and other foreigners, is inevitably a source of considerable discontent, and criticism. A new industry of restaurants and hotel accommodation is focused solely on affluent foreigners. In contrast to recent events in West Timor, the security situation in East Timor has been surprisingly calm, disturbed only by the intrusion of militia groups, some of which have caused local alarm by penetrating the central mountain area.

There has yet to be any action to relocate militia away from the border zone, and the implementation of the order to disarm them has so far been at best half-hearted. Over 170,000 refugees have now returned but a systematic process of obstruction and intimidation is continuing. Militia elements may be being deliberately returned to urban areas, especially Dili, where discontented youth could be mobilized to resort to violent demonstrations against UNTAET. Falintil, the guerrilla force once led by Xanana has still not been integrated into the PKF or formed into the beginnings of a national military force.

In spite of these problems, UNTAET is putting together the agreed interim political structure, including a cabinet with a series of ministries, such as finance, agriculture, health and education, in which some of the top posts are being filled by Timorese, though for the time being they will still be responsible to the Administrator, in the terms of the Security Council Resolution. An even more significant move is the expansion (and renaming) of the National Consultative Council (which UNTAET set up as an advisory body) into what will be the foundations of East Timor’s parliament. Its membership will increase from 15 to 33, new members representing districts, women, youth and the Church. This proposed reform has been welcomed, and has done much to improve relations between UNTAET and Timorese leaders.

Despite East Timor’s small size, because of its sensitive location early attention has been given to the setting up a foreign service. Some fifty Timorese are currently being trained as diplomats, including ten by the British Foreign Office and ten by the Portuguese Foreign Ministry. In the aftermath of the Congress these new arrangements are now being put in place, and East Timor’s first elections are now expected to be held in August next year.

The international presence in East Timor is of course not confined to UN agencies. There are numerous NGOs, playing vitally important roles in health, education, housing reconstruction, and agriculture. There are also numerous companies, most of them from Australia, engaged in reconstruction, hotel accommodation, services, and so on. Some of these ventures are more notable for rewarding the businessmen behind them with substantial profits, than for their contributions to East Timor’s economy.

East Timor has already attracted a diplomatic corps, including from Australia, Portugal, the United States, China, Japan and, of course, Indonesia. The most active foreign groups are probably the Australians and Portuguese, although they are not collaborating as well as they might.

The UNTAET mission’s first nine months have not been easy. It began slowly and at times clumsily, but the pace of change has now quickened, giving rise to a new confidence among all the parties involved. The key determinant remains the situation in Indonesia.

WATCHPOINT: Indonesian military continues to cast a shadow of insecurity over East Timor, inevitably causing tensions to persist between Australia and Indonesia.

 

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