Independence Day


The international spectacle to mark East Timor's independence at the weekend was an appropriate acknowledgement of that country's dramatic struggle to reach this objective.

The small nation, one of the world's poorest, has had to endure Portuguese colonialism, an Indonesian invasion in which 200,000 people were killed in the mid-1970s, and a traumatic vote for independence in 1999 followed by a bloody rampage of pro-Indonesian militias. Since then, the United Nations has run an effective operation to prepare East Timor for independence, culminating in last month's presidential elections, in which Mr Jose "Xanana" Gusmao won overwhelming support. The UN's presence will continue - to ensure its internal and external security and help build the new state's administrative apparatus.

Last week saw a successful conclusion to an aidpledging conference, which raised more money than East Timorese leaders had sought. The development plan devotes nearly half of its resources to health and education. Coffee and oil production are to be developed along with the local and subsistence agriculture on which most of its population relies.

Mr Gusmao and his colleagues are set to form a government capable of overcoming the political fragmentation they inherited from the struggle for independence. That they enjoy much international goodwill and no shortage of advice was vividly apparent in the large attendance at yesterday's ceremonies in Dili. Former President Clinton, the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and the Indonesian president, Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri, were among the most prominent guests. Their presence symbolised Indonesia's commitment to respect East Timor's independence.

Ireland has had a close involvement with East Timor over recent years. Public interest was stimulated by a remarkable solidarity organisation led by Mr Tom Hyland, enthusiastically reciprocated by the Government. Irish ministers, development workers, troops and police have been prominently involved. They are backed up now by a pledge of $2.2 million from Ireland Aid, described by the Minister of state, Liz O'Donnell, as an initial response to a long-term strengthening of the development relationship. On all the evidence so far that would be well worth doing.