Thursday, June 23, 2011

The City of Peace Rocks!

Musical mariners belt out an eclectic mix of melodies to the delight of crowds thronging the Palácio do Governo 

Dili’s residents have been subjected to a week of frenetic activity – buzzed by Black Hawk helicopters; treated to the imposing sight and superstructure of United States Ship (USS) Cleveland silhouetted against a sultry skyline; the footfalls of over 5,000 bipeds pounding the streets in the staging of the second City of Peace Marathon and the ramping up of a multi-national humanitarian assistance program, the Pacific Partnership, to Timor-Leste. Throw in the odd public holiday; stunning ‘mid-winter’ weather and with hundreds of international visitors (including many men in mottled military fatigues) gracing Dili’s shores, its fast becoming a destination for more than just peacekeepers, aid workers and accidental tourists.


The people's premier Xanana Gusmao joins in on the festivities

Although the Timorese story has been shared, its audience has been particularly limited which makes it all the more unique and intriguing. With time, I may be able to add my own version but for now I’m content to revel and bask in this, the total Timorese experience – people that are gentle, caring, uncomplicated and refreshingly unsophisticated.  Their resilience, resolve and self-determination are legendary though and with a hefty European and Asian ‘cultural infusion’ are a wonderful blend of very old, less old, newish and pure promise of what might be through steady progression towards a decade, and beyond, of hard fought independence.

UNMIT's reassuring presence is still felt throughout Timor-Leste

Fact File: Timor-Leste
·         Purported to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a stable political system and improving education infrastructure; yet
·         Timor-Leste is one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, where more than 90% of the government’s annual budget comes from petroleum revenues;
·         Gained independence in 2002 after tripartite peace accord between Indonesia, Portugal and the people of Timor-Leste brokered by the UN;
·         Former Portuguese colony granted independence in 1975 which proved to be short-lived as the Indonesian invasion followed shortly thereafter;
·         Approximately 180,000 – 250,000 people died (close to one third of Timor-Leste’s population and also the highest per capita death toll of any conflict in the 20th century)  in sporadic unrest during Indonesia’s 24-year illegal occupation and colonization of the country;  

Dili slumbers in the early dawn whilst the crew of USS Cleveland prepare for another working day

Fact File: Timor-Leste contd.

·         Seventy percent of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed in 1999 when Indonesia and anti-independence militias went on a killing spree after the majority of Timorese voted for independence in a referendum;
·         In 2002 more than 150,000 people were displaced by political turmoil;
·         Timor-Leste is currently vying for membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and if its candidature is granted will become the eleventh member of the powerful Asian socio-economic and political bloc;
·         The United Nations Integrated Mission to Timor-Lester (UNMIT), which includes 1397 police and military advisers, is scheduled to begin withdrawing after the 2012 elections.

USS Cleveland - amphibious transport dock ship at anchorage off Dili

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