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Timor marks 10 years of independence

By Sara Everingham in Dili and wires

Posted 1 hour 18 minutes ago

A formal ceremony is being held in Dili to mark 10 years since the East Timorese chose independence from Indonesia.

Australia's Governor-General Quentin Bryce is representing Australia at the event.

Later this afternoon another ceremony will be held, where Major-General Peter Cosgrove is expected to receive a medal.

The retired general was the head of the Australian led multi-national peace-keeping force in East Timor after the referendum on August 30, 1999.

The final event today will be a concert by the Indonesian pop singer Krisdayanti.

Artists from each of the half-island's 13 districts are also performing at the celebrations.

Asia's youngest nation

The UN-backed vote ended a bloody 24-year occupation by Indonesian forces and ushered in the birth of Asia's youngest nation.

Over 78 per cent voted in favour of splitting from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

Elation however soon turned to terror as the Indonesian Army and its proxy militias went on a rampage, destroying infrastructure and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to other parts of Indonesia.

Around 1,400 people were killed by the time Australian-led UN peacekeepers restored order, ending an occupation that is estimated to have claimed around 100,000 lives through fighting, disease and starvation.

But East Timor's people remain among the world's poorest, with 40 per cent of the population earning less than one dollar a day, despite vast offshore gas wealth.

International aid efforts have been hampered by political instability and spasms of internecine violence.

Fighting among police, soldiers and street gangs in 2006 killed 37 people, displaced 100,000 and required the return of UN peacekeepers.

Assassination attempt

A presidential election in 2007 was hailed as a success, but in February the following year the country was again in turmoil when rebel soldiers gunned down President Jose Ramos-Horta.

The bullet-riddled Nobel Peace laureate required emergency surgery in Australia. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted but was unscathed.

The assassination attempt highlighted another troubling aspect of East Timor's independence - a culture of impunity for major crimes and human rights abuses.

Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed in the attack, but Mr Ramos-Horta has said he will pardon Reinado's followers after the conclusion of their ongoing trials.

In the interests of good relations with Jakarta, he has also rejected demands for an international tribunal to try Indonesian generals and militia leaders indicted by the UN for crimes against humanity.

Speaking to AFP on Friday, Mr Ramos-Horta said his country was not a place to "experiment with international justice".

This is fine with Indonesia.

"We are becoming more mature in our relationship. We have left the past, what has happened, in history," Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.


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