- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

DILI, East Timor — Police officers in smart blue uniforms confidently direct traffic.
Newly refurbished government buildings sparkle with white paint, and a constituent assembly will be sworn in tomorrow following East Timor's first democratic elections.
A new nation is being born here under U.N. guidance two years after departing Indonesian forces turned this country into a wasteland of rotting corpses, burning buildings and refugees living in metal shacks of scavenged metal.
"Never forget what we started from," says Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which assumed authority here when Indonesian occupiers withdrew in October 1999.
The Indonesians damaged telephone, water and electrical facilities, destroyed government records and torched homes, businesses and offices as part of a scorched-earth policy that left UNTAET with the job of building a government from scratch — something the United Nations has never succeeded in pulling off.
After facing severe criticism in its first year for the slow pace of reconstruction, for the shortage of East Timorese in administration, slow efforts at job creation, and for its lavish lifestyles, the U.N. officials are now drawing qualified praise from Timorese and foreign observers alike.
"We thank the U.N. because they've helped us," said Francisco da Costa Amaral, 39, a teacher who voted in the Aug. 30 elections for an assembly made up entirely of East Timorese who will write the country's constitution.
"I see their effort as pretty good," said Manuel Carrascalao, 67, who briefly headed the National Council, a type of legislature dissolved in July ahead of the recent assembly elections.
The assembly is expected to lead the country to full independence early next year.
A Western diplomat who closely follows East Timorese affairs said UNTAET has succeeded despite the huge challenges it has faced. "They never had an experience like that anywhere in the world and I think they have done a great job, I must tell you," the diplomat said.
The reconstruction effort has required more than 10,000 U.N. soldiers, police and civilian staff whose presence has acted as a magnet for foreign-run hotels, restaurants and other businesses, which moved in to serve them at prices unimaginable in Indonesian times.
"I'm hungry, mister. I'm hungry, mister," a boy in rags said as he trailed a foreigner past the Delicious Blue cafe on Dili's waterfront. The restaurant sells steak dinners at $12, more than the daily wage of most East Timorese.
Outside the capital, the measure of change is not in the number of restaurants but in the simple fact that many people have roofs over their heads again. On the road to Liquica, a town 30 miles west of the capital and one of the most severely damaged by Indonesian-backed militias in 1999, nobody seems to be living under plastic tarpaulins as they were one year ago.
The U.N. cites several achievements here, including the recruitment of more than 9,000 civil servants, the establishment of a judicial system, the repair of thousands of school classrooms damaged by Indonesian forces, and the creation of a Central Payments Office — a type of central bank.
At the same time, the United Nation's Mr. de Mello says the roads are bad in parts of East Timor. He said he wished schools and medical clinics could have been rebuilt more quickly, and he said that although agricultural production is good, marketing of the produce has not been so successful.
"Could we have done better? Yes, of course we could have, had we known how to do it," he said.


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