Friday, December 07, 2007

East Timor Challenged by Poverty, Displaced People, UN Says

from Bloomberg

By Paul Tighe

East Timor's development is challenged by poverty and the estimated 100,000 people, or 10 percent of its population, still living in camps after civil unrest last year, the United Nations said.

``The challenges of governance and the legacy of the 2006 violent crisis and its aftermath still haunt the country's political leadership and affect the people,'' Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's UN ambassador, who headed a team that visited the Southeast Asian nation last month, said yesterday in a report to the Security Council.

East Timor's security remains ``calm and stable, but fragile,'' Kumalo said in a statement on the UN's Web site.

Violence in the former Portuguese colony, also known as Timor Leste, erupted in March last year, resulting in the deaths of 37 people and driving 155,000 from their homes. Stability was restored with the help of international peacekeepers and East Timor this year held presidential and general elections.

``The mission left Timor-Leste convinced that the country is on the right path of regaining its role as a peaceful, stable, united and prosperous country,'' Kumalo said.

East Timor's government, with the help of the UN and international community, must improve the conditions for displaced people living in 53 camps in and around the capital, Dili, he said. It must also settle the issue of former soldiers who deserted the army, he added.

Armed Forces

Last year's violence began when former prime minister Mari Alkatiri fired a third of the country's armed forces for desertion, prompting clashes between groups from the western and eastern regions.

There was more unrest in August when the Fretilin party was excluded from government for the first time since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia five years ago.

Former President Xanana Gusmao assembled a three-party coalition without Fretilin following elections held June 30. Riots broke out Aug. 6 when he was appointed prime minister.

Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who replaced Alkatiri as prime minister, won a run-off presidential election in May.

East Timor still has weak institutions, leading to problems in running the country and its justice and security branches need strengthening, Kumalo said.

East Timor is one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries even though it holds the rights to an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of light oil. It has a jobless rate of 50 percent and about 42 percent of 1 million people live below the poverty line.

The UN has been operating in East Timor since 1999, when the country voted for independence following a 24-year occupation by Indonesia. The country, lying about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of Australia, became independent in May 2002.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at .

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