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Lured by adventure, tourists start sniffing out East Timor

DILI, April 30, 2006 (AFP) - "Guerrilla" tours cashing in on East Timor's strife-torn history have begun and whale-spotting could be a drawcard one day, but for now the idea of adventure -- with a spot of world-class diving -- is the lure for tourists trickling into the world's youngest nation.

Official statistics are not yet kept in the nation that was occupied by Indonesia for 24 years and turns four next month, but industry insiders estimate about 3,000 tourists arrived in East Timor last year.

It's hardly a crowd but a dramatic improvement on earlier years, says Eduardo Massa, director of East Timor's first travel agency Timor MegaTours.

"It was totally different," he says of 2005. "At last we started to have groups, small groups coming, and we had several cruises coming as well ... Suddenly everybody looked at East Timor and felt confident to come here."

Before that, the memory of the violence stoked by Indonesian-backed militias in 1999 was still too fresh, he said.

Enraged by the overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia in a UN-backed referendum, the mobs murdered an estimated 1,400 people and obliterated some 70 percent of all buildings in the half-island nation.

But now, Massa boasts, "Timor is safe as any other place in the world."

Still, the lack of infrastructure -- poor roads, limited places to stay and minimal services -- means only a certain type of adventure tourist is coming for now to enjoy the stunning scenery of Asia's poorest nation.

"We had a group of Japanese whose average age was 60, but still they slept in tents and were happy to do that -- but of course, they were looking for adventure, they were not looking for a five-star hotel," Massa says.

"Of course people complain about the roads, but this is the best for adventure. You need a four-wheel drive, it's so fantastic."

What does the former Portuguese colony have to offer?

"Because of the coffee and all of those mountains, it's really fantastic for trekking," Massa enthuses, referring to East Timor's extensive shaded coffee plantations, which were mostly started under the orders of the Portuguese.

In particular, Massa's company is about to start running treks led by about 20 former resistance fighters.

"They know this country. They know the hideouts ... When they talk to you about the places you are passing by, it's so different from if I am talking," he explains.

And unlike in many other post-conflict nations, landmines are not hindering exploration of the hills for undiscovered tourist spots.

Simon Jeffery, 36, who has worked for Dive Timor Lorosae for three years leading guided dives and captaining their boat, waxes lyrical about the potential for diving in the young nation.

"Big tour organisers come out here and love the place -- it's world-class diving," he says, comparing it to Bali and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

"The exciting thing about it is that it's all virgin territory -- there are virtually 1,000 -- or 10,000 -- dive sites out there that have never been dived before," he enthuses.

"At traditional dive destinations like Thailand and Fiji now there'll be 200 people at a site and you can't see the fish."

Another potential he sees is whale-spotting.

"There's been a time when we've had pilot whales and dolphins, thousands and thousands of them," he says, gesturing out to the azure waters lapping Dili's beaches from the restaurant he also runs.

Arcanjo da Silva, vice minister of development, says tourism is a priority for the government in helping to boost East Timor's economy.

"For the Timorese, we cannot only trust in gas and oil, or only trust in agriculture to develop our economy," he says, referring to East Timor's main foreign exchange earners.

"We have to look at other potential sectors and one of them is tourism."

The main challenge for now is a dire lack of human resources and attracting foreign investment to help build up infrastructure.

Macau, for instance, has offered to provide statistics training -- so something as simple as tracking tourism numbers can occur -- but "it's hard to find someone who has basic knowledge of statistics to send", he complains.

Meanwhile in the next few weeks, a ferry from the German government aimed at tourists is due to arrive to ply the route between Dili and nearby Atauro island -- slated as a potential ecotourism destination -- and the Oecussi-Ambeno enclave, according to the vice minister.

"We have to prepare infrastructure: roads, hotels, restaurants, among other things, for tourists to come ... We are now at the starting point of the development of tourism in Timor."

Another hindrance is a lack of direct flights to Dili. Travellers must currently travel through Australia's Darwin or the Indonesian resort island of Bali to get here.

Foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta told AFP in an interview that the government has been in contact with Air Asia and Silk Air about opening direct links to either Malaysia or Singapore.

"Right now the Bali route or particularly the Darwin route is a killer," he concedes.

For fish vendor Fernando Cardoso, 16, selling healthy looking produce at a small outdoor market on Dili's pretty waterfront, more tourists would mean hoteliers snapping up his produce, he says.

"Not many people are buying fish now," he laments of the sluggish market.
 

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I didn't read all of it, but hey, it's nice they're developing some tourism over there too.

I hope East Timor doesn't lose its Portuguese heritage, especially the Portuguese language, which is spoken in so few countries. Brazil is doing a tough job trying to make more people speak Portuguese there. Every month we're sending teachers and Portuguese books.
 

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^^The nation should never forget Portuguese, they shouldnt copy what we Filipinos did to the Spanish language. East Timor and the Philippines both occupy a special place in Asia (the only two nations in Asia where Christianity is predominant, Strong European influences, etc.), so I support everything they do, now that they are starting to flourish as a nation and as a people...
 

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I hope to see photos of East Timor. Everything in Google is so outdated. Our country and theirs share cultural similarities. The only difference is that we're Spanish and they're Portuguese :D
 

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Thing is: in Asia people living there remained the same that lived there in the beginning. Here in the Americas they exterminated 'em all and settled from the scratch. That's why Portuguese, Spanish, English and French are the dominant languages. In Asia you have your own regional languages, and that's a conflict. If I spoke an Asian language I'd probably not want a foreign language (Portuguese in this case) to dominate my country.
 

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I read the other day that East Timor wasn't the only part of an island that Indonesia took over. Apparently, Irian Jaya (western New Guinea) was also an independent country that the Indonesians took over by force.
 

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Nick in Atlanta said:
I read the other day that East Timor wasn't the only part of an island that Indonesia took over. Apparently, Irian Jaya (western New Guinea) was also an independent country that the Indonesians took over by force.
Nu-uh Indonesia never take Islands >( Irian Jaya or West Papua was Dutch Colonial and the Dutch Gave it to Indonesia read History boy!

East Timor? I heard things are Expensive there :(
 

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schmidt said:
I hope East Timor doesn't lose its Portuguese heritage, especially the Portuguese language, which is spoken in so few countries.
I agree. :) Asia isn't just all about the Chinese and Japanese. :D
 

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GluTTony said:
Nu-uh Indonesia never take Islands >( Irian Jaya or West Papua was Dutch Colonial and the Dutch Gave it to Indonesia read History boy!

East Timor? I heard things are Expensive there :(

Glu I read somewhere that the West Papua is took over by Indonesia not the Dutch gave it to Indo

I think sooner or later we have EAST TIMOR Forum :D
 

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From my understanding, Portuguese is only spoken by the tiny mestico elite. The vast majority speak Tetum and Indonesian. I say, get with the program and ditch the elitist Portuguese language and promote English as the lingua franca. Like it or not, English is the dominant language of this capitalist world and countries that don't promote it are gonna be left behind. Even Japan is considering adopting English as a national language!
 

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Violence escalates in East Timor
Reporter: Tom Iggulden


TONY JONES: Well, there's been an escalation in violence in East Timor with running gun battles between the military and rebels claiming the lives of at least two people today. There are also reports that rocket-propelled grenades have been used in the fighting in the hills around the capital, Dili. The fighting was witnessed by Time Magazine's Rory Callinan, who also sent us images of the gun battle. Tom Iggulden has the story.

TOM IGGULDEN: The violence began with pitched battles between villages from Dili's east and west, fought with home-made weapons. Yesterday, renegade police aligned themselves with one of the two groups hiding out in the hills above Becora, to the city's west. Today, the Army arrived to confront the renegade police.

RORY CALLINAN, TIME MAGAZINE REPORTER, DILI EAST TIMOR (RADIO INTERVIEW): A full-scale sort of gun battle has developed and it's left, I think it's one - one dead and five... five wounded - we hear at this point - and that's on the Army, and then maybe one dead on the other side, the sort of force which has taken up the cause of the - of one of the sort of village groups.

TOM IGGULDEN: These pictures were shot by Time magazine correspondent, Rory Callinan. He says there may be more than 100 armed police and soldiers in the hills where these pictures were shot.

RORY CALLINAN (RADIO INTERVIEW): They may be aligned with a group of military police here, who have also removed themselves from Dili and set up a sort of a camp at a place called Eyelu, and have been refusing to come back to Dili with their weapons. There is some suggestion there may be some alignment between those two groups.

TOM IGGULDEN: Some of the group have been hiding out in the hills for several weeks, but the East Timor Government was confident it had the situation in hand.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, EAST TIMOR FOREIGN MINISTER: I do not think he want violence; I think, I believe that he will not. But, at the same time, let me say one thing: to fight an insurgency in that country, in that rouge mountains, you need profound, motivating convictions. If you are motivated only by certain, short-term gains, you will not survive there.

TOM IGGULDEN: Tonight, the violence appears to have worsened from the gun battles this afternoon, when SBS journalist David O'Shea was evacuated by an armoured vehicle from an area of heavy fighting; reportedly escaping injury.

RORY CALLINAN (RADIO INTERVIEW): Look, I mean, I think the escalation has already happened. We were there about an hour ago and we heard some quite loud explosions there, which the military told us were rocket-propelled grenades, and that's a quite a serious escalation obviously. And in terms of them being willing to come and talk to each other, I think, worryingly so, it's going to take the - you know, somebody like the UN to get between these two sides and talk them into laying their weapons down. But, you know, I - that didn't seem to be happening when I was there and, obviously, that's a terribly difficult thing to do. You know, tonight, you know, this city is awash with rumours and refuge- you know, a lot of people are sort of fleeing the city to their districts, you know, going back to their east or west districts.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER: We've made it clear that we are ready to offer assistance to East Timor if it's needed and requested directly by the East Timorese Government, or indirectly through the United Nations.

TOM IGGULDEN: It's understood Australian security chiefs have tonight met to discuss the situation, but, so far, the East Timor Government has refused to allow an intervention force on the ground. But some question how much worse the violence has to get before the Government accepts help.

RORY CALLINAN (RADIO INTERVIEW): Given the presence of weapons and, you know, the number of weapons that were very quickly brought into the conflict it had a very, you know, a very deadly effect on things, and, you know, I guess, you'd wonder whether agencies like the UN, you know, are trying to dealing with this problem; if they're putting enough resources into it.

TOM IGGULDEN: Australian police sources in East Timor have told Mr Callinan that attempts today to negotiate with the militias failed. Canberra has, tonight, increased the alert on its travel warning for East Timor. Tom Iggulden, Lateline.
http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1645752.htm



2 Killed in Fighting in East Timor
By GUIDO GUILLIART, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 23, 10:24 AM ET

DILI, East Timor - Fighting between disgruntled former soldiers and the military left at least two people dead in East Timor on Tuesday, as Australia and New Zealand offered to provide troops to the tiny nation to help restore calm.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said the violence broke out after the ex-soldiers tried to ambush troops in the hilly outskirts of the capital — some as they headed to a bank to pick up their pay, and others at a checkpoint.

Volleys of gunfire were heard in several parts of Dili throughout the day.

East Timor has been plagued by unrest since the dismissal earlier this year of nearly 600 soldiers — a third of the entire army — after they went on strike, complaining of discrimination and poor working conditions.

The ex-soldiers, who threatened to wage guerrilla warfare unless they were reinstated, fled Dili last month and bunkered down in the hills surrounding the city after deadly riots broke out.

Alkatiri said at least one solider was killed early Tuesday and that five government forces and a policeman were wounded, some seriously.

Dr. Liborio Alves, director of a state-run hospital east of the capital, said a renegade soldier also died and that two others were injured, one with a gunshot wound to his stomach.

Australia, which led a U.N.-military force into East Timor after its bloody push for independence from Indonesia in 1999, warned its citizens against traveling to the nation, saying the situation was "extremely dangerous."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told lawmakers in Canberra that his government was readying naval vessels, aircraft and troops to enable a rapid response.

"We've made it clear that we are ready to offer assistance to East Timor if it's needed," he said, adding the military could also help with evacuations.

New Zealand also said a platoon of about 30 troops was on standby for deployment.

At the heart of the conflict are the former soldiers' claims that they were being discriminated against because they came from the west of the small country, while the military leadership originates from the east.

Police Maj. Domingos da Camara said some of the dismissed soldiers appear to have the support of some breakaway police units, which have joined them in the hills with weapons and ammunition, a claim the government later denied.

Army Chief of Staff Col. Lere Anan Timor vowed to capture the renegade soldiers — who allegedly ambushed his troops in the southeast Fatuhai neighborhood — "dead or alive."

A government commission was established this month to investigate the ex-soldiers' allegations of discrimination, but has yet to release results.

There have been several violent clashes in recent months, including riots in late April that killed five people and destroyed more than 100 houses and businesses in Dili.

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999 after 24 years of brutal occupation that human rights groups say left as many as 200,000 dead.
 

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The only other country aside from the Philippines that I would love to visit in Asia is East Timor. :)

Sinisiraan lang niyan ang East Timor huwag mong pansinin! Basahin mo dito kung gaano niya ibandera ang lupain ng mga moro! :)
 
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