EAST TIMOR: UN administration moves to evict stallholders

Issue 

BY JIM MCILROY

DILI — Street stallholders selling food and drinks on the seafront near the centre of the city here faced an attempt to forcibly evict them from their established positions on November 3, as the United Nations Transitional Administration of East Timor (UNTAET) moved to "clean up" the waterfront area, as part of a plan to make Dili a place attractive to tourists and the increasing numbers of foreign UN employees residing in East Timor.

A crowd of traders gathered on the seafront that morning in angry protest at UNTAET's unilateral attempt to shift them to another, much less prominent site. After negotiations between East Timorese community leaders and the UNTAET acting district administrator, the eviction move was postponed, at least until discussions had been held between UNTAET and East Timorese representatives.

Police and military personnel, who were preparing to seize the stalls and take them away in trucks, then dispersed.

Avelino Coelho, secretary of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), described the attempt to move the stallholders by force as "totally unacceptable."

The minimum basis for a move by the traders would be the provision by UNTAET of "proper conditions" for the street stalls at another site, he said.

"The government should provide jobs for the people", he noted, instead of attempting to remove those who were creating their own employment.

"We need reconstruction, not oppression", said Eusebio Gutterres, representing the Labour Advocacy Institute of East Timor (LAHET). "Why not reconstruct the damaged buildings which are everywhere in Dili?" he asked.

"The street stallholders already pay tax of US$10 per month. They need proper facilities, including sanitation. Then they may be prepared to move at some stage", he said.

"UNTAET fails to consult with the people. We need real democracy here", he added.

This incident is indicative of a growing frustration among the population of East Timor with the bureaucratic methods of UNTAET.

A deep social divide has developed between the highly paid foreign employees of the UN and the mostly unemployed and poor people of Dili and other areas of the country.

Arbitrary decisions over employment of teachers, appointments to consultative bodies and other issues has provoked protests by different groups in recent months.

A majority of the buildings in the capital remain burnt-out shells, because the UN has no policy of direct investment in reconstruction, merely waiting for private capital to carry out any rebuilding over time.

UNTAET is essentially preparing the groundwork for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to dominate any new East Timorese government, due to be created following elections expected by late next year.

Meanwhile, the demands of the Timorese people for genuine democratic rights, jobs and a significant improvement in living conditions are growing.