I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Many of the Members of the Oireachtas have been involved with the issue of East Timor over the years and many members of this committee have honoured the campaign not only by lending their names as patrons but also by taking an active and hands-on approach to the plight of the people of East Timor. I must apologise in advance if events overtake my presentation, but the situation in Timor is developing on an ongoing basis.
I will provide some background information. There have been three great tragedies in Timor's history. A brief civil war in 1975 came about as a result of Indonesian exploitation of the differences between the pro-independence FRETILIN and the more conservative UDT parties. This occurred against the background of the collapse of the Portuguese empire of which Timor was a part. The wounds of this civil war are still evident in Timor. Approximately 1,500 Timorese died in this conflict and human rights abuses were committed by both sides.
The second great tragedy was the Indonesian invasion and illegal occupation. According to the recent report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, an estimated 186,000 Timorese, one third of the population, died as a result of this. Following a UN supervised referendum on 30 August 1999, in which up to 1,600 Timorese died at the hands of Indonesian security forces and their Timorese militia, 78.5% of the population opted for independence. However, Indonesia instigated a scorched earth policy which led to the destruction of 80% of Timor's infrastructure. The Timorese are still living with the legacy of this carnage. A UN force arrived and restored order. East Timor was a UN-administered territory from 1999 until 20 May 2002. The Timorese took effective control of their own affairs at that time.
I will now outline the catalyst for the latest violence. Earlier this year, an estimated 591 soldiers went to the presidential palace to complain that they were being discriminated against. The soldiers were largely from the western part of East Timor. They alleged that their commanders, who mainly come from the eastern part of the country, were passing them over for promotion in favour of soldiers from the officers' districts. The Timorese army, the FTDL, is made up of ex-resistance fighters and new recruits. It has been stated by observers that the new recruits lack the discipline and training needed for a professional army. The soldiers were ordered back to barracks but refused to do so and camped out at the presidential palace. A decision was then taken to dismiss them. It is believed that the Prime Minister ordered their dismissal. The army commander decided to dismiss the soldiers while the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were out of the country on official visits. The soldiers stayed in the capital, Dili, and in April took to the streets in a series of week-long demonstrations against the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. The situation became violent and five of the dismissed soldiers were shot dead when the security forces opened fire. The ex-soldiers allege that many more died in the aftermath. Inter-communal violence followed but was confined to the capital. It seemed to break down along geographical lines, with people from the west of the country attacking the homes of people from the east. However, criminal gangs then became the order of the day and began burning homes and looting business premises. Within a short period an estimated 100,000 Timorese were internally displaced.
The Foreign Minister requested that Australia send peacekeeping forces which were on the ground within a couple of days. They were joined by security personnel from New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal. A level of order was restored but gangs continued to roam the inner districts of the capital. It is estimated that there are 60,000 internally displaced persons in the capital and a further 75,000 in outlying areas. The United Nations has issued an appeal stating it needs up to $15 million for food and shelter. I welcome the decision of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for overseas development assistance and human rights, Deputy Conor Lenihan, to allocate €500,000 to this appeal.
Last weekend saw the threat, since withdrawn, by the hugely popular President Xanana Gusmao to resign if the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, did not step down. This weekend the Foreign Minister, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, announced his resignation. However, it now seems that this has been withdrawn. It was announced yesterday that the Prime Minister has resigned. He was very unpopular, partly due to the fact that he had spent the 24 years of the Indonesian occupation outside the country in Mozambique. Many Timorese view him as largely untouched by the violence.
I will explain how this situation has arisen and what went wrong. I ask the committee's indulgence as this is a complex and difficult problem. Timor is very much like Ireland was in the aftermath of our gaining independence. There are many personalities and factors at work. There is great trauma in Timorese society. It was generally felt that everything would be fine after the creation of the new state by the United Nations, but this has not been the case. The period of Indonesian occupation was a difficult one for the Timorese. Families were turned against families and many difficult compromises had to be made in order that people could survive. Proportionally, more people have died in Timor than in Cambodia under Pol Pot and they were subjected to unspeakable cruelties.
There are huge levels of unemployment which reach 70% in certain areas, particularly the capital. Many young people are of the opinion that they have not seen the economic benefits of independence. Until now they have benefited in terms of security. They believe they have suffered and that most of the jobs have gone to those Timorese who left the country during the occupation period and benefited from better access to education. They live in the poorest country in Asia, with some of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality. For young people, this is regarded as a generational issue. They see themselves as the lost generation, the ones who took to the streets. They were involved in a clandestine movement that opposed the Indonesians, 30,000 of whom were in the country at one point. They have not benefited because they have no skills. There is an underlying resentment that these people fought the good fight but have not seen any of the resulting benefits.
An educated elite existed under the Portuguese but under the Indonesians, the Timorese were not allowed to gain necessary skills, such as middle management and other skills, to effectively run their own country. The people who benefited where those who agreed with the integration and followed the Indonesian line.
East Timor is a difficult country in terms of its geography. Large communities exist but they do not have communications with other communities. There are little or no communications. A rumour factory has contributed to some of the violence we have seen. Mobile telephones are used to communicate details when something happens. The message is passed on to people several times and, before long, the rumour factory takes over, with fiction being aired instead of fact.
It is evident that the sense of Timorese identity that was evident during the occupation has not, to a great degree, been built upon as a result of a lack of communications. I stand open to correction on these figures, but for every $10 spent in East Timor, $8 is spent in the capital, where 10% of the people live. The remaining $2 is spent in rural areas, where 80% of the people live.
Another issue I would like to address is a core matter, namely, the culture of violence that has existed in Timor since the Indonesian occupation. Problems were solved through violent actions. It is difficult to convince a population that there are ways to solve problems other than through violence. The Indonesians had a policy of separating and dividing communities — or divide and rule — and the legacy of this is still evident.
I wish to allow time to answer questions so I will deal with where we could go from here. The two main factors regarding Timor are the violent past and the high unemployment rate. We must also consider the lack of analysis, following the UN withdrawal, regarding the direction Timor would take. It has been said that the UN pulled out too soon. I agree with that assertion. A nation could not have been built in the three years from 1999 to 2002, particularly when one considers what people had endured.
I have outlined four points in my submission on what can be done in the future and I am open to questions on them. The issue of unemployment must be addressed because it is absolutely central. The schisms existing in Timorese society must be mapped out. These are both geographical schisms and divisions in respect of other matters such as justice. Proper political leadership is required in Timor. There should be a re-engagement on the part of the international community.
I thank the joint committee. The content of my submission has been changing right up until the last moment. My latest information is that the Prime Minister resigned yesterday and that many of his supporters have come from the outlying districts to the capital. If a Prime Minister is forced to resign, there is bound to be a knock-on effect. What many saw yesterday as a solution is not so. The Prime Minister's supporters are now coming to the capital to vent their frustration. Timor is not out of the woods yet.