Timor-Leste

International donors withdrew from East Timor too early, envoy says

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Jakarta_(dpa) _ The international community probably disengaged from East Timor too quickly after it became independent five years ago, as the fledging nation descended into political violence and chaos, the country's senior UN envoy said Tuesday.

Atul Khare, head of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor Leste, said foreign donors learned a lesson that young nations need continuous help as they attempt plant democratic institutions.

East Timor, whose official name is Timor Leste, achieved independence in May 2002 after 24 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia, and more than two years under UN administration. However, the country was on the verge of collapse a year ago after part of the army revolted, sparking clashes among factions of the security services in the capital Dili that killed dozens and displaced more than 100,000 people.

The violence forced the Australian military, which had led an intervention force into East Timor after it voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, to once again send in troops.

"The international community perhaps withdrew its support for Timor Leste a bit early," Khare, an Indian diplomat, told a press conference.

But he added: "I personally strongly believe East Timor can be a beacon to what a small country can achieve in the field of democracy and human rights."

Khare is on a two-day official visit to Jakarta to meet with Indonesian political and military leaders ahead of East Timor's second-ever parliamentary elections on Saturday.

"I remain confident the parliamentary elections will be safe ... free and fair," he said, conceding there could be isolated pockets of violence.

East Timor, which lies on the eastern half of Timor Island, is a former Portuguese colony with a majority Christian population of less than 1 million. Indonesia's West Timor province lies on the other half of the island.

Normalcy returned in the months after Australian troops restored order, and the country successfully held presidential elections earlier this year, with acting Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta winning in a run-off.

The ruling Fretlin party is a favourite to win the majority of parliament's 88 seats, but they will be opposed by former president and independence hero Jose "Xanana" Gusmao and his breakaway party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor.

Khare told reporters that the new government would have several major tasks to carry out, including strengthening the rule of law and the judiciary, reforming the security forces to make them impartial, and resettling the estimate 100,000 remaining refugees.

Having lost 30 per cent of its crops this year to drought, plagues and locusts, East Timor also will need 15,000 tons of emergency food assistance during the upcoming "lean season," the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said last week. dpa jc jh

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