The World's Youngest Republic
an Indonesian private airline "Merpati" carrying
me taxied to a halt at the President Nicalau Lobato airport
(named after the assassinated leader) at noon. Aboard the
aircraft, I could identify the island with mountainous terrain
and the coastline fringed by coconut plantations. The airport,
modest in outlook was located next to the sea. Airport formalities
were very simple and prompt. Only three small desks attended
to the passengers. I was whisked away by Mr. Lanka- the administrative
officer at the WHO office to Hotel Audin- my abode for the
next few weeks.
still prefer to call it East Timor. However, the official
name of the world's youngest republic is Timor- Leste.It lies
in Southeastern Asia, northwest of Australia in the Lesser
Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.
The country has a land area of approximately 15000 sq. km
and includes the eastern half of the island of Timor. Timor
comes from the Malay word for "East".
from my official assignment, Timor Leste aroused special interest
within me, particularly because so much 'noise' was generated
regarding the bloody birth of this nation under the charismatic
leadership of Independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world with a
per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US $ 478. About
40 percent of the population lives on less than 55 cents per
capita per day. Two thirds of the rural population, about
600,000 people experience food shortages at some time during
the year. Unemployment rate is as high as 50%.
began to trade with the island of Timor in the early 16th
century and colonised it in mid-century. East Timor declared
itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975. However,
unfortunately it was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces
nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July
1976 as the 27th province of East Timor.
of pacification followed over the next two decades, during
which an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals lost their
August 1999, in a UN-supervised popular referendum, the people
of East Timor overwhelmingly voted for independence from Indonesia.
During 1999-2001, anti-independence militias - supported by
Indonesia - conducted indiscriminate violence. On 20 May 2002,
East Timor was internationally recognised as an independent
state. Possibly, Timor-Leste is the only country to have achieved
independence through a UN supervised referendum.
my visit I was informed by my colleague from Myanmar, Dr.
Soe Aung that there was a Bangladeshi restaurant in town.
I was overjoyed and decided to move to a hotel close to it.
The following day, I moved to Hotel Dili 2000,opposite the
main Catholic Cathedral- few minutes walk from Queen's Restaurant-
the Bangladeshi restaurant.
the capital is a small, pretty city. Sandwiched between the
Timor Sea and the "Ekoli" chain of mountains, the
landscape is simply mesmerizing. Washed by the blue waters
of Timor Sea, Dili boasts of a beautiful coastline. Dili is
a 6 km by 4 km city and has a population of about 1.5 lakhs
Dili still lacks basic civic amenities. Most of the city roads
are dotted with numerous potholes and the pavements are worn
out. The city is virtually without streetlights and I had
to rely on vehicular light for my nocturnal movements. Garbage
and litter are strewn everywhere. The city parks with broken
benches and overgrown hedges are not frequented by visitors.
There are no recreational outlets and an unusual calm prevails
after sunset. Hundreds of torched houses stand in mute silence-,
reminiscent of the orgy of senseless destruction carried by
the Indonesian militia at the declaration of the result of
few hotels worth mentioning. Most of them would fall into
guesthouse category. The outstanding one is the elegant floating
hotel-"Central Maritime Hotel" anchored at the bay.
However, there are many restaurants offering wide varieties
of different cuisines of different nationalities.
Restaurant- the Bangladeshi restaurant was few minutes walk
from my hotel. Nostalgia predominated and I made the most
of it, gobbling away, from fish curry, vegetables mix to daal
and paratha. Of late, the restaurant has become a meeting
place or 'adda khana'for the South Asians. For lunch, we used
to walk across the road in front of UN House and relish over
rice, fried fish and vegetables at makeshift "Italian"
restaurant run by an Indonesian lady. The Timorese relish
hot, spicy food and would invariably add chillies chutney
to their dishes.
are about 25 Bangladeshis in Timor engaged in different trades.
Few have ventured in boutique shops while others are employed
in electronic shops. Some excel in snacks selling mughlai
parathas and samosas.
of UN Peacekeeping mission is visible every where. Apart from
the army personnel, the Bangladesh Air Force maintains a contingent
at Maliana district bordering Indonesia. Bangladesh is also
participating in the UNIPOL (UN Police) to maintain law and
are few Bangladeshis also working at different ministries
as part of the civilian wing of the peacekeeping mission.
Despite extreme poverty, incidence of theft, dacoity, burglary,
rape and murder are extremely rare. The UN Peacekeeping Mission
is scheduled to remain till May 05. It would be interesting
to see how the Timorese manage their affairs after the departure
of the UN Mission.
Singaporean and the Vietnamese own most shops mainly stuffed
with Indonesian goods. The 'poorest' province of Indonesia
has now become a 'gold mine ' for Indonesia. An irony of fate.
comprise a tiny 4%. The majority of the people are Roman Catholic.
gifted with an impressive mosque located at Campaalor. The
mosque is spacious enough to accommodate 5000 people and was
constructed during the "Indonesian" times. I offered
my Jumma prayer during the course of my visit and was moved
by the large congregation. Interestingly, the present Prime
Minister is a Muslim, Dr. Mari Alkatiri, a freedom fighter
and one of the architects of modern Timor.
Timorese relish chewing 'Paan'. The Timorese would spatter
their lips and mouth red chewing paan. Betel leaves, betel
nuts and grounded tobacco (proxy for zarda) are openly
sold in the markets. The good thing is that they have not
learned to spit like us.
language is Tetum, spoken mostly by the present generation.
Other equally important languages are Portuguese and Bahasa
Indonesia. English, however is little understood and spoken.
are no movie houses but the Timorese are fond of Hindi films
and songs and Indian film stars are very popular. Hindi DVDs
and VCDs are sold even on the pavements. The drivers would
tune to their favourite Hindi songs while driving. I even
found the office goers humming some Hindi numbers over computers.
Although the language is not understood at all! The only newspaper,
the Timor Post is circulated together in all the four main
a few forays to different districts namely Manatuto, Baucau
and Liquica. The roads scarily meandered in serpentine fashion
along the coastline, often 3000 ft. above the sea level.
country is blessed with several beautiful beaches but there
are very few tourists as the facilities are quite limited.
The only beach worth visiting is the Kristo Rei Beach, on
the outskirts of Dili.The mountains form an elegant background.
Atop the mountain is the huge statue of Virgin Mary- the landmark
of Dili built during the Portuguese era. The area offers a
spectacular panoramic view of the capital
inland, I found the terrain generally mountainous. The countryside
appeared dry and arid with little vegetation.
visited the heart of Dili is the "Tais market"-tin
shed outlets of woven cloth (Tais) and handicrafts. Many of
the skilled artisans have either been killed or have fled
faces great challenges in continuing the rebuilding of infrastructure,
strengthening the infant civil administration, and generating
jobs for young people entering the workforce. The health system
is still very weak with an acute shortage of doctors. Maternal
and infant mortality are high and so is malnutrition among
children. One promising long-term project is the planned development
of oil and gas resources in nearby waters, but the government
faces a substantial financing gap over the next several years
before these revenues start flowing into state coffers.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004