East Timor Riot Signals Rough Start

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sat Dec 21 00:09:03 MST 2002

East Timor Riots Signal Rough Start
Thursday December 12, 2002 6:50 AM

DILI, East Timor (AP) - The Hello Mister supermarket was among the
few foreign-owned businesses that took a chance on a newly
independent East Timor, selling peanut butter, gourmet cheese,
spaghetti sauce and other goodies to expatriates.

Set ablaze amid bloody rioting last week, the store has been reduced
to rubble. Its two dozen workers fled over barbed wire to escape
hurled rocks and molotov cocktails.

``I'm getting the hell out of this country,'' said Canadian-born
manager Kirk MacManus, reflecting gloom that East Timorese can only
pray won't infect all potential foreign investors.

The mayhem just six months after independence signals a rough start
for the world's youngest nation. It also underscores the fragility of
East Timorese society as it struggles to emerge from 24 years of
brutal Indonesian occupation and four centuries of Portuguese
colonial rule.

Some blame unemployment and poverty for the rioting, looting and
arson that broke out last Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital of
Dili - killing two, wounding two dozen and destroying a number of
buildings, including the prime minister's residence....Unemployment
is estimated at between 60 percent and 80 percent. The United Nations
says almost half of East Timor's 800,000 people live on less than 55
cents a day....

The pattern of violence during last week's riots lends some credence
to the government's assertion that provocateurs were behind it. The
rioters chose specific targets, including the Hello Mister market, a
hotel, the parliament building and two properties belonging to Prime
Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Yet hundreds of youths joined the mayhem, apparently unaware of any
orchestrated plot - an indication the country had become fertile
ground for the violent venting of frustration.

``There's no question that a place with 80 percent unemployment is a
tinderbox,'' said Sidney Jones, the Indonesia director of the
Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think tank.

``But it's not just a lack of opportunity and a lack of jobs. There
are a lot of political grievances in East Timor that are rooted in
the past,'' he said.

The violence has put the onus on the government and the United
Nations to answer some troubling questions: Why did a fledgling
police force supposedly trained to respect human rights open fire on
unarmed crowds, as was seen by many witnesses, including an
Associated Press photographer? Why were the 1,250 U.N. police
officers still assigned to East Timor unable to stop the violence?

The U.N. mission, scheduled to end in June 2004, currently maintains
more than 2,000 civilian and military personnel in East Timor in
addition to about 1,000 local staffers....

The country is expected to start receiving revenue from substantial
offshore oil and gas fields in 2005. Until then, it is dependent on
foreign loans and grants....


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