Ten years ago the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly to split
from Indonesia and become an independent nation. The initial
exhilaration they experienced was soon followed by violence from
pro-Indonesia militias, and then economic struggles and internal
decade after that vote East Timor is just beginning the hard work of
Police officer Bernadette Eligardo is a
familiar face on the streets of Dili. "It is very, very peaceful and I
hope sir that it will continue," he said.
Eligardo is from the Philippines and is with a United Nations police force of 1,500 that keeps the peace in East Timor.
Over the past decade, East Timor has faced threats both foreign and domestic.
overwhelmingly voting for independence from Indonesia on August 30,
1999, the country was ransacked by Indonesian-backed militias. More
than 1,000 people died before the Australian military intervened to
restore order. The United Nations and international relief
organizations came to help this new nation build a government and
The country formed a parliamentary system of
government and elections were held. But in 2006 violence again erupted
after nearly half the military defected claiming discrimination. Riots
by rival gangs and factions of the security forces drove 100,000 people
from their homes.
The prime minister at the time, Mari
Alkatiri, blames political rivals for the violence and trying to
replace the elected government.
"If you have two or three sovereign state institutions fighting each other, it means democracy failed," he said.
says he resigned as part of compromise to prevent a civil war. U.N.
forces returned to the country and have been responsible for security
In 2007 elections were held, but less than a year later
rebel soldiers shot President Jose Ramos-Horta. The president survived.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted but escaped unharmed.
He says on the anniversary of independence, the country should choose reconciliation over confrontation.
year it is very important for us to in a consensus, we decide together,
not to look for war and not to repeat the bad experience we had during
these last 10 years," said Gusmao.
Despite the crises the
country faced, Atul Khare, the U.N. special representative for East
Timor, is optimistic about its future.
"It is not the absence
of crisis. It is the manner in which the crisis is going to be met and
resolved that defines a nation," said Khare. "And I think this nation
is on the right track in promoting democratic consensus and promoting
Former Prime Minister Alkatiri is not so
confident. He initially supported U.N. intervention but worries that
East Timor is becoming too dependent on outside help.
now become used to the people to feel secure because of the
international presence here," said Alkatiri. "It is not good for the
future of the country. We need now to have a clear program of reform,
of defense and security that we can transmit to the people."
and unemployment remain major problems, as do the lack of good roads,
good schools and health care. But security and stability have made it
possible to begin addressing these problems.
In 2006 there more than 1,600 families lived in a refugee camp outside of Dili. Today there are less than 50.
The government has found housing for most but Balbina Desilva and her family were not so lucky.
She says yesterday they were moved into the city but the local people did not accept them. So they had to come back.
independence has not yet brought prosperity, many in East Timor, like
Elsa Expostu, who grows coffee in the rural highlands of the Aleiu
district, say they are still better off today.
She says there is more opportunity today than there was under Indonesian rule.
country's vast offshore oil and gas resources have provided the
government $5 billion in revenue. That is a source of both
hope and fear. The hope is that this money will fund development. The
fear is that it will become a corrupting influence upon the country's
While East Timor faces many challenges, U.N.
Special Representative Khare says it is on the path to becoming a
"I think it can be a beacon in the coming
years for those of us who believe that the values of democracy, the
values for respect for human rights, the values for respect for the
rule of law are indeed universal values," he said.
Nation building, he says, is a long-term process and 10 years is just the beginning.