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Timor Extends Helping Hand to Tsunami-Hit Old Enemy

  • Doug Keatinge

Fund raising effort for victims of December's Indian Ocean tsunami has surpassed most expectations. Countries rich and poor around the world have dug deep to contribute, perhaps none more so than Asia's poorest and newest country: East Timor.

It was a tsunami fund-raiser with a difference: on one side the Army, on the other the police, and in the middle in a bright yellow referee jersey, the president of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao.

On Saturday there was a full house at Dili's main stadium for this charity soccer match aimed at raising funds for tsunami victims in East Timor's nearest neighbor, Indonesia.

The ticket prices were low; no surprise given the extent of the country's poverty. It was 50 cents to stand, and $2.50 for a seat. For some, even this was too high as the average income is less than 50 cents a day. There were plenty who attended the match by jumping over the fence or climbing up well-positioned trees around the ground.

After the game, won 3-2 by the police team, a barely perspiring referee, President Gusmao, says no donation was too small.

"If you go to the bank then there are 50 cents… $1, $2, $3. Our appeal is: you give what you can," said Mr. Gusmao.

East Timor lies at the other end of the Indonesian archipelago to disaster-hit Aceh Province and was untouched.

President Gusmao says his people feel sympathy for their Indonesian neighbors.

"It is a movement of solidarity with the victims of tsunami. We have many events…this soccer match is one of them … aiming to raise funds that I will collect on 27, and I will go to Jakarta to deliver to President [Susilo] Bambang [Yudhoyono]," he added.

The gesture of solidarity with Indonesia is poignant given that it is the country that imprisoned Mr. Gusmao for seven years for his role in leading guerilla resistance to Indonesian rule. East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N. sponsored but violent referendum in 1999. Since then, President Gusmao has pursued a policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the government in Jakarta.