Issue 4-2022 small

23 May 2002 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

East Timor, a nation at last

Monday 20 May, was Day One of East Timor 's independence: the first East Timorese Cabinet was sworn; students, former guerrilla fighters, police and soldiers took to the streets in a jubilant parade. Former President Clinton was there to raise the flag at the new US Embassy. And the new government signed a treaty with Australia to share revenues from oil reserves.

Just after midnight on Sunday 19 May, the United Nations lowered its flag - ending a two-year interim administration - and East Timor raised its flag, a white star on a background of red, black and yellow.

Tens of thousands of people cheered, applauded and cried. Images of the long and bloody struggle for independence - including torture scenes and photographs of resistance heroes - filled wide screens.

Indonesia's occupation killed tens of thousands of people through forced migration, starvation and murder. In 1999, the Indonesian military and paramilitary fighters opposed to independence laid waste to much of East Timor following a UN-sponsored referendum in which voters overwhelmingly decided to break with Indonesia.

A 50-foot-long float, in the shape of a crocodile with a little boy sitting on top, was wheeled into the arena. Legend has it that Timor Island was once a giant crocodile befriended by a boy, who then rode the oceans on its back.

In East Timor's new parliament building on Monday, speaker Francisco Guterres inaugurated the 88-member assembly in front of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

As East Timor awoke on Monday after a night-long independence party, hundreds of people crowded in front of the former Portuguese colonial palace in the capital Dili to watch Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri swear in 23 Cabinet ministers and state secretaries. In their first act, legislators voted to sign the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and become the newest member of the 189-strong world body later this year.

"We have to create a solid, transparent and good government," said Alkatiri after the ceremony, adding that the new government would focus on reconciliation with East Timor's former occupier, Indonesia. East Timor hopes to prevent disgruntled Indonesian officers from inciting militiamen still living on the other half of the island, in Indonesian West Timor.

President Gusmao missed much of the independence ceremony, choosing instead to accompany Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on a visit to a cemetery containing the graves of Indonesian soldiers killed in East Timor.

Prime Minister Alkatiri has signed a treaty with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to share revenue from oil reserves in the Timor Sea.

The treaty will give East Timor a 90/10 split of revenue, expected to be worth $7 billion over the next 20 years. The profits, not expected to be seen until 2005, will give an enormous boost to independent East Timor, currently ranked as one of the world's poorest nations.

For now, East Timor must rely on foreign aid to make ends meet.

Carter calls for change in Cuba policy

US former president Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba ended on Friday 17 May and his remarks have placed him at odds with the Bush administration over the blockade policies, after Carter said limits on tourism and trade often hurt Americans more than Cubans.

"I see the embargo and travel restraints as an imposition on the human rights of American citizens," he stated.

Carter was the most prominent American political figure to visit Cuba since Castro's 1959 revolution, and the Cuban leader gave him unprecedented freedom to speak to the Cuban people. He used it to bluntly describe the country as undemocratic and to repeatedly publicise a dissident campaign that most Cubans had never before heard of.

But Carter was also critical of the US human rights record during a speech delivered live on Cuban television of Tuesday 14 May. "My nation is hardly perfect in human rights. A very large number of our citizens are incarcerated in prison, and there is little doubt that the death penalty is imposed most harshly on those who are poor, black, or mentally ill," he said.

Carter also said the basic pillars of US policy toward the island had been counterproductive failures. The former president believes that cooperation rather than isolation would help prevent problems.

The former president hoped that President Bush "would consider these opinions".. However, Bush reaffirmed his support for the embargo in a morning speech at the White House on Cuban Independence Day - 20 May - and in an afternoon appearance in Miami.

"Without major steps by Cuba to open up its political system and its economic system, trade with Cuba will not help the Cuban people; it will merely enrich Castro and his cronies and prop up their dictatorship," Bush said.

Bush was demanding that opposition parties be allowed to organise, assemble and speak freely, with equal access to the airwaves. He also was saying Cuba's 2003 elections must be monitored by objective outside observers and that human rights groups be free to visit Cuba to monitor the conditions for those elections. In addition, the president was insisting that all political prisoners be released and allowed to participate in the election.

There was irony in the thrust of Bush's remarks and its delivery in Miami. Cuba mocked the United States for the chaotic conclusion in Florida of the 2000 presidential election, and Cuba's foreign minister offered to send observers to ensure fair balloting there in the future.

Cuban-American voters helped carry him to a narrow victory in Florida, the state that decided the 2000 election, and they favour the kind of hard line he was espousing. At the moment, Bush's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, faces re-election this year and is depending on Cuban-Americans, who vote heavily Republican.

Bush's policies have been a focus of worrying even for Castro's opposition in Cuba. Carter, who met with about 30 prominent dissident leaders, said they told him such a policy would create an "undeserved stigma".

They would welcome non-government aid, Carter said, but "they expressed deep concern about any assistance that was identified as coming directly or indirectly from the US government, or any declaration by the US government that official funds were being channelled to them.

The former president praised Cuba for helping other poor nations produce treatments for killer diseases, and he argued that "complete cooperation" between US and contacts between US and Cuban scientists would help ensure that transferred technology was not being misused.

Sierra Leone President wins vote

On Sunday 19 May, Sierra Leone's president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was declared the winner of the re-election in the first vote after one of Africa's most ruthless conflicts, signalling voter rejection of the rebels who waged it. The announcement of the results sent people of the bullet-pocked capital, Freetown, running out to dance in the streets.

The National Election Commission said President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah won with 70.6 percent of the vote - well above the 55 percent he needed to avoid a runoff.

Kabbah, 70, was credited by Sierra Leone's people with resisting the rebels during the insurgents' 10-year terror war, launched to win control of the government and of diamond fields, and which killed tens of thousands of civilians. Countless more victims live today with the legacy of the rebels' trademark atrocity - the lopping-off of arms, feet, hands and lips with machetes.

Kabbah's Sierra Leone Peoples' Party won 83 of the 112 seats in parliament, despite predictions that his rank-and-file politicians would bear the brunt of voters' unhappiness over continuing corruption in the country.

Ernest Koroma's All Peoples Congress, the next-closest contender in a field of nine presidential candidates, received 22.35 percent of the vote - 27 seats in parliament.

The rebels, who launched a political party after disarming last year, won only 1.7 percent of the vote and not a seat in parliament. "We have lost, and we accept the people's verdict," said Pallo Bangura, the rebel-allied candidate who stood instead of their jailed founder, Foday Sankoh, in the presidential election that was held on Tuesday 14 May. He rejected the widespread suggestion that the vote showed how little popular support the rebels had in their war.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1