East Timor: Jobless confronted by anti-riot troops

April 5, 2000


East Timor: Jobless confronted by anti-riot troops

By Vanja Tanaja

DILI — United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (NTAET) security forces threatened to use anti-riot gear against 800 job seekers seeking information on their job applications on March 29. They had been asked to come to the UNTAET office to hear of the outcome of their applications.

On seeing the number of people gathered and sensing the anger of the crowd at the lack of information from UNTAET yet again, anti-riot troops were brought out to quell the demonstration. Troops stood with riot shields, tear gas canisters and batons ready. National Consultative Council member Avelino da Silva offered to negotiate between UNTAET and the crowd. He told the crowd not to become frustrated and not to expect UNTAET to solve all of East Timor's problems.

The job seekers were angry at the prospect of violence being used against them, equating it with life under the Portuguese and Indonesian colonial administrations. One job seeker told me that he had filled out four application forms, but still had not heard whether or not he had been selected for an interview. He said all the protesters wanted was certainty and transparency in the selection of workers for UNTAET. Others condemned the type of employment offered by UNTAET, mainly as security guards, whilst many of them were highly qualified workers.

Casimiro Pinto asked how a nation could be built when Timorese are only given the opportunity of being security guards. A crowd who had gathered around me said that UNTAET's agenda was to make East Timor dependent on international forces and its treatment of job seekers is symptomatic of this. They condemned the high salaries of imported labour in contrast to the US$50 a month many Timorese employees received.

The crowd demanded that Timorese political leaders meet with them to discuss UNTAET's conduct in the territory. Avelino Coelho de Silva and Jose Ramos Horta, vice-president of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), spoke to the gathering.

Horta explained to the crowd through a megaphone the procedures for applying for jobs with UNTAET and the public service in general. He apologised for the difficulties experienced by job seekers. One person in the crowd yelled out that his problem was hunger.

Da Silva said that UNTAET had to provide more information, and dialogue with the crowd, instead of over-reacting by threatening to use anti-riot troops. He said the problem was of UNTAET's own making, by telling the job-seekers to come that day to seek information on the outcome of their applications and failing to fulfil this promise.

A meeting was then held in Dili's indoor stadium attended by the two Timorese leaders and some UNTAET staff and around 400 of the job seekers. Horta told the meeting that he and CNRT president Xanana Gusmao had invited the UN to come to East Timor and as proof of their loyalty to the Timorese, some UN staff had died in East Timor. He also outlined his commitment over the last 24 years to the struggle for an independent East Timor.

The crowd was very critical of UNTAET's conduct in East Timor, especially the lack of employment opportunities. Timorese CNRT leaders did not escape the crowd's wrath — one speaker condemning them for receiving money and cars and living a comfortable life while the people still starved.

A meeting is scheduled on April 3 between UNTAET administrator Sergio de Mello and a delegation of the job seekers.

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