Discontent Boils Over in East Timor
furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Fri Dec 20 23:49:49 MST 2002
***** Social discontent boils over in East Timor protests
By John Ward and Peter Symonds
6 December 2002
At least two people have been killed and more than 20 injured in
clashes with police and soldiers during two days of protests and
rioting by students and unemployed youth in the East Timorese capital
of Dili. The situation remains tense after the government imposed an
overnight curfew on Wednesday and called for UN troops to help police
guard key buildings and patrol the city's streets. Most shops and
businesses, as well as the university and high schools, were closed
A protest by students erupted on Tuesday after police entered a high
school to arrest a student for alleged involvement in gang violence.
On Wednesday morning, at least 500 students and others gathered
outside police headquarters in Dili to protest the arrest. President
Xanana Gusmao came to the police station to appeal for calm but was
ignored and had to be escorted inside as stones began to fly.
Police responded to the stone-throwing by firing warning shots then
shooting into the crowd, killing at least one student, and then
stirred even more resentment when they tried to grab the body.
Enraged students were joined by others in a rampage directed at the
government, the UN and foreign-owned businesses. Protestors looted
and burned shops, vehicles and other buildings, including the
residence of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, the parliament building
and the Dili mosque.
East Timorese officials have announced that two people were
killed-one of them a 14-year-old student, Honorio Ximenes-but the
death toll could be higher. Eyewitnesses claim that the police shot
and killed up to five people. Saturnino Saldaha, a doctor at the Dili
hospital, said the facility had been swamped by seriously injured
young people and created an urgent need for blood. About 80 people
have been arrested on looting and other charges and are being
detained at a UN facility at Tasieolo outside Dili....
Interior Affairs Minister Rogerio Lobato baldly asserted that the
protests were "an orchestrated manoeuvre to topple the government".
He and other officials alleged that the CDP-RDTL (Popular Defence
Committee-Democratic Republic of East Timor) was behind the rioting.
The group, which opposes the UN presence and calls for full
independence for East Timor, has organised a number of
The government is clearly looking for a scapegoat to deflect
attention from the failure of their own policies. There is a huge
social divide between a tiny elite of government officials,
businessmen, foreign officials, aid workers and troops and the vast
majority of the population, most of whom are unemployed and living
below the poverty line.
Young people, in particular, are angry that their prospects for an
education and a job are extremely small. Among the businesses
ransacked on Wednesday was the Australian-owned "Hello Mister"
supermarket, which specialises in supplying imported goods to UN and
other foreign workers. While UN troops and officials are paid hefty
living allowances of $US100 a day, most East Timorese are struggling
to survive from day to day. The few who have jobs earn an average of
about $6 a week.
Estimates of the jobless rate vary between 70 and 80 percent.
Moreover, it has worsened since East Timor formally declared
independence on May 20, as the number of UN personnel has been
reduced. The difficulties facing villagers in rural areas have been
compounded by a severe drought. Even with the official poverty rate
set at just US 50 cents a day, a UN survey last year found that 60
percent of people in rural areas were living in poverty. Education
and health services are rudimentary.
Many East Timorese have begun to feel betrayed as the promises that
accompanied the Australian-led UN military intervention into East
Timor have failed to materialise. Clearly nervous about the
situation, Australian Prime Minister John Howard phoned his
counterpart in Dili to pledge financial assistance-to bolster the
police and judiciary, not to alleviate the underlying social crisis.
The view that the Alkatiri administration governs for a small elite
has been reinforced by its decision to impose Portuguese, the
language of the former colonial power, as the country's official
language. Most of the population-around 90 percent-speak only Bahasa
Indonesia or Tetum and other local languages and are thus excluded
from government jobs and alienated from parliament, the courts and
other official institutions.
...Unable to address the social and economic problems facing the
majority of the population, the government is signalling its
intention of cracking down on any political opposition. In doing so,
it rests almost exclusively on 4,700 foreign troops and police still
in East Timor under the UN flag. Significantly, Foreign Minister Jose
Ramos Horta, speaking from Madrid, called on the UN to slow the
present phased withdrawal of UN forces.
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