East Timorese Demonstrate Against the UN

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It has now been six months since the United Nation’s occupation of East Timor began, making it appropriate to take a look at what has been happening in East Timor during this time.

When the UN occupation force arrived in East Timor this last winter they were occupying a country that was in ruins. On top of the death and destruction that had been the hallmark of the Indonesian occupation since 1975, following the August,1999 independence referendum-in which 80 percent of East Timorese had voted for independence-blood-thirsty militias supported by the Indonesian government had gone on a rampage. Their attacks had left hundreds dead, thousands raped or maimed, and over 70 percent of the buildings in the country leveled.

Unfortunately, in the six months since this dramatic climax of colonial tyranny, little has actually changed for the people of East Timor. The country is still in ruins, people still have no way of making a living, and hope is still a precious and increasingly rare commodity.

It has become practically a daily routine for thousands of unemployed East Timorese to angrily demonstrate outside the United Nations offices in Dili, East Timor’s capital. They demand jobs to support their families, and to know why the UN has not delivered on its promises to bring aid and relief.

Since its occupation began, the UN has been unable, or unwilling, to do hardly anything to alleviate East Timor’s poverty and unemployment-apart from taking in a few translators, clerks, and computer operators,

Today the unemployment rate stands at over 80 percent for the adult population, not counting the thousands of East Timorese who still haven’t returned from the refugee camps in West Timor where they fled to escape the Indonesian militia rampage.

The UN, together with allied leaders from the East Timorese independence movement like Jose Alexandre Gusmao, have said that the East Timorese are mistaken to expect the UN, or the new government being formed, to be a source of employment, but instead must look forward to the creation of jobs that foreign investors will create. However, there has been virtually no foreign investment in East Timor since the end of Indonesian rule, and there are very few investors who are willing to even consider opening up shop in this devastated and still potentially unstable land.

Gusmao has even gone so far as to say that the civil service set up during the Indonesian occupation, which at its height never employed many more than 30,000, was bloated, and that the new civil service will employ only a quarter of that when it is re-established.

“Nothing has changed,” yell the unemployed protesters in Dili, who day after day return home with nothing to offer their hungry families. At the same time, UN officials, who rather than native East Timorese have been appointed the heads of almost every district and department in the country, pay more for their morning cappuccino than the average East Timorese makes in a day.

All of this raises questions about the “humanitarianism” of the UN’s intervention, and poses the question that if the UN is not intent on engaging in any serious campaign to alleviate the day-to-day poverty and suffering of the East Timorese people, what are its real motives?

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