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IN THE NEWS – May 25, 2002: New Nation of East Timor - 2002-05-24

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

A new nation was born this week. On Monday, East Timor officially declared its independence in a ceremony in Dili. Thousands of people attended the celebration. They watched as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan lowered the U-N flag marking the end of U-N supervision of the former Indonesian territory.

East Timor’s new president, Xanana Gusmao, was immediately sworn in. Mister Gusmao led the resistance to Indonesian rule. He spent seven years in an Indonesian jail as a result.

President Gusmao urged the new nation to build a democracy for all its eight-hundred-thousand citizens. He said the independence East Timor had gained would have no value if its people continue to live in poor conditions.

Mister Gusmao praised several international leaders. He gave special thanks to Secretary General Annan for his support. Mister Gusmao also noted the courage of former Indonesian President B-J Habibie.

International leaders praised East Timor. Mister Annan said the people’s path to independence had not been easy. Former American President Bill Clinton said East Timor’s freedom had been paid for by blood and sacrifice.

Indonesian Prime Minister Megawati Sukarnoputri also was a guest at the independence ceremony. She had been opposed to independence. Mister Gusmao welcomed the Indonesian leader. He said the difficult relations between East Timor and Indonesia were the result of a mistake that belonged to the past.

For hundreds of years, East Timor was a colony of Portugal. In nineteen-seventy-five, Indonesia invaded East Timor after Portugal withdrew. More than one-hundred-thousand East Timorese were killed or died of hunger or disease in the next four years.

In nineteen-ninety-eight, longtime Indonesian dictator President Suharto resigned. The new leader, President Habibie, suggested self rule for East Timor.

The following year East Timor held a vote about independence from Indonesia. A large majority of East Timorese supported the proposal. However, pro-Indonesian armed groups began a campaign of terror after the vote. Much of Dili and other areas were destroyed. The fighting eased as the U-N took control of East Timor.

East Timor still has many problems. There are deep cultural divides. For example, Mister Gusmao has made Portuguese the official language. Yet, only about five percent of the people speak it. Many speak Indonesian. Others speak a local language called Tetum.

East Timor’s main problem is that it is one of the poorest countries in the world. It suffers from a lack of health and education resources. Yet, many countries are promising financial aid to the new nation. And, East Timor hopes to profit from the development of natural gas resources near its coast.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.