The Guardian March 1, 2000

East Timor:
The situation on the ground

Ceu Brites was member of the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre 
(PCRC)/Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) Executive Board between 
1996 and 1999. She works for the East Timor Relief Association (ETRA) which 
comes under the umbrella of the National Council of Timorese Resistance 
(CNRT). Ceu returned to East Timor in late September last year to help with 
the rebuilding of East Timor as the first wave of UN Peacekeepers moved 
into the island. The following is the report (abridged) that she sent to 
the Pacific News Bulletin in late December 1999 about the 
experiences of the building process.

Tension and controversy

The current situation can be said to be the first period of the first three 
months since the international Force for East Timor (INTERFET) landed in 
Timor Lorosae.

This period is probably the most tense and controversial one due to two 
reasons. One is the uncertain situation regarding security, which led to 
"Operation Stability" led by Australian forces under the INTERFET umbrella.

The second problem was the issue of a "mandate". No one knew exactly what 
the United Nations Assistance Mission for East Timor (UNAMET) was supposed 
to do in Timor Lorosae, no one knew exactly what was the role of the 
National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), no one knew exactly what 
was the role of Portugal and no one knew exactly who was supposed to be in 
charge of law and order in the territory.

This uncertainty contributed to the high level of tension and controversy, 
which characterised this first three-month period in East Timor since 
INTERFET landed in September.

Have we passed the line?

In a way, the situation has improved. UNAMET's role has become increasingly 

Law and order has not been clearly solved but concrete actions have been 

In Darwin, about 20 Timorese lawyers received intensive training to conduct 
work related to prosecution and judging.

These "emergency law officials" placed in East Timor will fill an important 
gap. That is the gap of prosecution and unclear guidelines for arresting 
people, interrogating them and putting them on trial to prove their guilt 
or innocence. So this is a positive step forward.

The arrival of Mr Sergio de Mello, the Special Representative of the 
Secretary-General of the UN, has added to the positive environment.

Prior to his arrival, there was reluctance from UNTAET leadership in East 
Timor to deal with CNRT on a formal capacity. His arrival appears to have 
changed that.

The agreement between the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), INTERFET and 
CNRT/FALINTIL to jointly control the border has also contributed to a 
better environment of trust.

The humanitarian crisis can be summarised as being lack of food, shelter, 
security, electricity, water, public transport, hospital treatment and 
basic health conditions.

Although the above list seems to be a standard humanitarian crisis 
inventory card, solving this crisis has proven to be more complex than many 

One reason for this complexity is that not all the NGOs and Humanitarian 
Agencies of the UN in East Timor were familiar with the political 
developments in East Timor. Many did not even know who "Xanana Gusmao" was, 
others never had experience in real crisis situations.

Even with this lack of understanding of the political realities on the 
ground, most of the NGOs refused to contact Timorese political 
organisations, such as CNRT, to liaise with them and to understand what is 
what and why this and that.

Only two or three NGOs took that initiative and these, as it became 
clearer, did not face major problems in the delivery of their services.

OCHA, the coordinating body for the UN Humanitarian Agencies, did not want 
to work with CNRT, only with the Catholic Church.

The first rice distribution was chaotic because the political structures on 
the ground, led by CNRT, did not get involved.

Although it is fair to say that even CNRT, at the early period of September 
to the end of October, was devastated due to the attacks against its cadres 
by the TNI and their militias.

The in-principle refusal to work formally with CNRT did not help with the 
situation. Now it seems Sergio de Mello might have to overcome this 
political impasse.

Shortage of everything led to price inflation in the country. Shortage of 
water continues. Sewerage system problems remain unsolved.

The shortages of food were gradually overcome with the imports of goods for 
general consumption. Health problems continue to be a threat to the future 
of East Timor. TB, malaria and dysentery coupled with malnutrition 
constitute a real problem for the people.

The crisis of "refugees"

Right now, thousands of people are still without emergency shelter. Those 
in the West Timor camps, initially 300,000 in number, have been assisted by 
the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to return home.

However, until now, only 115,000 have returned. The remaining 185,000 are 
still either in the camps, or elsewhere in Indonesia.

There have been reports of transmigration plans for these Timorese held 
hostage in West Timor and this needs to be investigated properly.

Of the 300,000 more than 185,000 were held in the camps of West Timor, 
whereas the rest either disappeared or were taken away to other islands. 
Many have been killed.

There are reports of male Timorese forced into boats that went away for 
half an hour and returned empty.

Numbers are very difficult to establish, but the above figures were 
supplied by a health worker, part of the international and Asian teams who 
managed to enter the camps in September.

On December 7, a UN investigator stated in Jakarta that her team found 
evidence of "systematic" murder in East Timor.

Being true and we all know this is true, just imagine what would have 
happened to those Timorese who crossed the border.

In my view, all this information must be taken into account to assess the 
real loss of lives and to find all those who were further forced away to 
other Indonesian islands.

One can only register with scepticism what the UNHCR said about the 
improvement of the situation in the camps of West Timor.

Rain and shelter

The wet season is increasingly being felt because of the heavy rain and 
difficult access to roads outside the capital, Dili.

Emergency shelters have not arrived.

Right now the CNRT's own Emergency Commission, with the help from 
Australian friends from Melbourne, is setting up 200 emergency shelters in 
Oecusse and more are expected within these two weeks to be set up in 
Lospalos and Manatuto, totalling 10,000 shelters.

These shelters are a result of creativity of Melbourne supporters.

They brought in a machine to make parts of these shelters, and are training 
Timorese the skills to make them, acquire raw material from Australia and 
set them up.

Another plan from Australian trade union, Construction, Forestry, Mining 
and Energy Union is about to be implemented.

This emergency shelter plan is also to provide much needed temporary 
shelter for those who are returning and those who come down from the 
mountains but have nothing left of their previous houses and villages.

These emergency shelter plans are supported with water purification 
systems, also from supporters in Melbourne, to provide clean and safe 
drinking water for the Timorese refugees.

UNHCR and OCHA are also looking into providing some support to the CNRT 
Emergency Commission.

Other aspects

* Postal services

The postal services are going to be provided by the Portuguese CTT 
(Correios Telegrafos in Telefones). They will provide postal services in 
Dili Comoro International airport and in Bacau and Ailcu.

In a second phase, this will increase to other areas and likely to go 
international as well.

* Education

No school is functioning at the moment, but many schools have been running 
"informal classes" in Portuguese and English.

These classes warrant proper support from the outside world since their 
students are so enthusiastic that many have been carrying their own chairs 
and tables from home to the schools and return home with their chairs and 
tables as well.

* Development and reconstruction  World Bank

The World Bank has met in Tokyo, Japan, to appreciate the proposals of the 
World Bank/CNRT Timorese joint assessment teams on December 17.

The World Bank members expressed their commitment to grant (not lend but 
give) financial assistance to East Timor.

The World Bank appears to be committed to the creation of a lean and 
efficient public service for East Timor.

Small business and private investments are beginning to appear but there is 
a need to recognise these initiatives.

* Telecommunications

The Australian telecommunications company Telstra has recently extended its 
services to Dili, so now all the mobile telephones from Telstra can receive 
and make calls as though from Australia.

It is expected that this arrangement, which lasts for six months, may be 
replaced by a more permanent contract with a company, maybe Telstra if it 
wins the tendering process to cover the entire East Timor.

CNRT reality and NGO work

The work of the NGOs is not easy. Communication infrastructure does not 
exist, schools are not functioning, and community meeting places do not 

Timorese NGOs suffer the same trend as the Timorese people, without much 
needed basic survival conditions  let alone working conditions to become 
viable partners with foreign NGOs.

The foreign NGOs enter with material and financial capacity which 
transcends any capacity of the Timorese NGOs. This, in part, contributed to 
the ill-feelings reported in the media, about the international NGOs.

The international NGOs are not to blame solely for the uneasiness in the 
environment of NGOs in East Timor, but there is a need to tackle this 
problem in a serious manner so that long-term relation and interaction 
between international NGOs and the national NGOs can improve.

NGO capacity building in East Timor is now top of the priority list.

Most Timorese NGOs, including those that may be formed soon, need support. 
Technical skills, trades skills, accounting, reporting and meeting 
procedures, are all needed. If you can help, please don't think twice.

CNRT is now looking into strengthening the Timorese civil society. As an 
umbrella organisation, CNRT does not see its role as just waiting for the 
UNTAET to do what needs to be done, but to take serious and professional 
initiatives to also undertake its mission of preparing the Timorese civil 
society towards a sustainable independence, prosperous democracy.

As such, CNRT needs your help. In its work of emergency, CNRT deals 
directly with the people to supply basic needs.

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