FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Behind East Timor's 10 per cent growth rate
, March 21, 2009
The improved situation in East Timor is a direct result of the 2007 election, when a coalition of pro-democracy parties defeated the ruling Fretilin Party. Peter Westmore reports.
East Timor registered more than 10 per cent economic growth in 2008, East Timor's President, José Ramos Horta, told a UN Security Council meeting last month. He added that he was optimistic about his country's prospects in 2009.
He said: "Our economy is doing very well with more than 10 per cent real growth at the end of 2008. With a 2009 budget of $680 million and $200 million in donor programs, I believe we will be able to maintain two-digit growth in spite of the international financial crisis."
"Today, East Timor is at peace," Ramos Horta told the Security Council, quoting a recent report from the International Crisis Group which said that security in the country "is strikingly improved" and "armed groups are no longer at large".
East Timor has also benefited from substantial royalties on its large offshore oil and gas resources.Surpassed expectations
In endorsing the UN Security Council decision to extend the UN Mission in East Timor for a further year, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, indicated that progress in East Timor had surpassed expectations.
"I have the rare pleasure of being able to say to the Council that more progress has been achieved than had been anticipated in my last report," Mr Ban said.
In 2009, East Timor can "finally devote its undivided attention to the essential task of building the strong and durable foundations that are crucial for long-term stability and prosperity," he added.
The improved situation in East Timor is a direct result of the election outcome in 2007, when a coalition of pro-democracy parties defeated the ruling Fretilin Party for both the presidency and in elections for the parliament.
During Fretilin's previous five years in power, East Timor's economy stagnated, its police and army fragmented, and the society was polarised by ethnic and other divisions, while Fretilin attempted to establish a one-party state and cultivated international alliances with countries such as Cuba and Communist China.
Benefiting from the improved security situation, the new government has committed resources to developing the country's education and infrastructure, and introducing an old-age pension. East Timor is almost the first country in South-East Asia to have an old-age pension.
Meanwhile, East Timor's Solicitor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, has announced that 28 people will be tried over the attempted assassination of East Timor's President, José Ramos Horta, and Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, in February last year.
President Horta was seriously injured, suffering bullet wounds in the back and requiring extensive treatment in Australia. Xanana Gusmao had a narrow escape.
During the course of the attack at President Horta's home, the rebel leader, Major Alfredo Reinado, was killed.
Twenty-five of the defendants were members of a group of soldiers known as "the Petitioners", who had been sacked from the army just before a Fretilin-inspired attempted coup in 2006. Major Reinado was the self-appointed spokesman for the group.
The evidence which has been released gives the clearest picture yet seen of the bizarre events surrounding the attempted assassinations, and indicates that Major Reinado, who had acquired folk hero status in East Timor, was acting on a personal grudge against the country's President and Prime Minister, whom he knew personally.
The Solicitor-General told a media conference in Dili that evidence would show that the weapon used in the attempted assassination of José Ramos Horta was owned and used by Marcelo Caetano, one of the defendants.
The other defendants face a range of charges, including attempted homicide, carrying weapons in public, and conspiracy to murder.
Among the three civilians facing trial was Major Reinado's former collaborator, Angelita Pires, who worked in the Attorney-General's office in Dili, but is an Australian citizen.
Court documents quoted by The Australian
allege that Ms Pires had been trying to raise money in Australia for Reinado's rebels. It reports some of the defendants as saying that, after she returned from Australia, she went to Reinado's camp and persuaded him that the President and Prime Minister were intending to kill him.
They further allege that Ms Pires told Reinado to "Go and kill those two dogs [Horta and Xanana Gusmao]"; that she supplied Reinado and his closest supporters with marijuana; and that, after smoking it, they became "fearless". Ms Pires has denied the allegations.
The effect of the failed assassination attempt was that the "Petitioners", now led by former Lieutenant Gastão Salsinha, formally laid down their arms in April last year.
Since then, the security situation has improved significantly, and the country's economy is growing at a rate not seen before, although chronic problems of unemployment and a lack of education, industry and infrastructure continue to exist in the country.- Peter Westmore