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Timor - Introduction

Revenues are narrowly based on oil and gas and the rate of population growth is high. The Government of East Timor faces immediate and serious political, economic and social challenges. It has achieved some of its short-term priorities. The security situation is calm, although the risk of violence is still present, and they have largely resolved the problem of Internally Displaced People.

Longer-term challenges are tackling employment and underemployment, rebuilding the security institutions and strengthening the institutional capacity of the public sector. Economic development in Timor-Leste is impeded by lack of income-generating opportunities and a weak environment for private sector development. Plans for the clearer demarcation of military and police responsibilities are proceeding.

Timor is derived from “timur,” the Indonesian and Malay word for “East.” As an Indonesian province the area was known as “Timor Timur,” which translates to “Eastern East.” Indonesians would commonly shorten this to “tim-tim.” “Leste” is the Portuguese word for East, while “Loro Sa’e” or “Lorosa’e” means “rising sun” in Tetum. So Timor-Leste remains the “Eastern East” or the “East rising sun.”

Timor-Leste in 1999 had no history of governing itself. A 24-year Indonesian occupation, which is estimated to have caused well over 100,000 deaths, followed three centuries of Portuguese colonization. Indonesia's scorched earth departure destroyed approximately 80 percent of Timor's economic infrastructure (utilities, public buildings, houses) and left Timor-Leste without a professional class experienced in governing. In retrospect, justified enthusiasm for the cause of Timorese independence obscured the enormous challenge of launching a new country basically from scratch.

Early efforts to portray the country as a triumph of international nation-building were shattered by violent chaos in 2006 as personal, institutional, geographic and generational rivalries exploded to the surface, leading to a frantic call for the return of international security forces to keep order.

Over two thirds of Timorese still live on less than US$2 a day. The country’s mainly subsistence-based agriculture sector has with low productivity and there is limited access to markets. The private sector faces difficulties accessing finance, a low-skilled workforce and poor infrastructure. The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the region. While school enrolment has improved, learning outcomes remain poor. Women face significant barriers in accessing education and employment and high rates of domestic violence. Nutrition remains a major concern: 50 per cent of children under five years have stunting - one of the highest rates in the world.

The security environment has remained relatively stable since the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) peacekeepers and the Australia/New Zealand International Stabilization Force (ISF) departed the country in December 2012. Ongoing challenges for the security sector include large numbers of unemployed youth, Martial Arts Groups, institutional weaknesses within the security services, and a lack of clarity about their respective roles.

Localised unrest occurs, including street gang clashes and political demonstrations. Timor-Leste has been stable for a number of years. However, the situation could deteriorate without warning. Violent disturbances, often resulting from minor disputes, can erupt without notice and escalate quickly. Particular vigilance is required in the vicinity of Comoro Road and markets and in other areas where there is a concentration of people.

Police may set up checkpoints anywhere in Timor-Leste. Makeshift barricades are sometimes used as unauthorised road blocks and may appear anywhere in Timor-Leste.

Empirical data shows most violent crime to be Timorese-on-Timorese violence. Expatriate violence does occur, but it appears to be extremely low despite the significant socio-economic disparity within the country. Robbery (in some cases armed), assaults, theft and bag snatching, while not common, have been directed at foreigners in Timor-Leste. Incidents have occurred in Dili and on nearby beaches and in the districts. The risk of being a victim of crime increases at night and if travelling alone. 'Smash and grab' style theft of property from vehicles occurs. There have also been cases of intruders breaking into homes known to be occupied by foreigners.

Martial Arts Groups (MAGs) are present, but the government banned most of their activities, and gang violence only flares up occasionally, primarily between rival MAGs. A void was left by the prohibition of martial arts groups that were created during the clandestine resistance and involved in the violence of 2006. The government and the NGO community continue to monitor them closely. There is a history of gang-related violence, robbery, arson and vandalism in major towns, particularly Dili. Rocks have been thrown at vehicles and property, particularly during the early evening and at night.

The growth and enlargement of martial arts groups is a phenomenon tending towards violence, to which the State has delayed trying to find solutions and a strategic orientation to engage young men in work, occupation and leisure activities. The State must define a strategic orientation of a civic-patriotic, educational and socio-sporting character, in coordination with governmental and non-governmental institutions, associations, the Catholic church and other religious faiths, to instil inclusive participation of young people in national development.

Sexual harassment of foreigners is common and can occur to males and females, but predominantly affects women. Sexual harassment of foreigners is common, including indecent exposure and sexual assault in the form of groping. This can occur in any location and at any time, particularly in isolated areas and travel in groups where practical. Incidents can occur at any time, including in highly frequented public locations such as Beach Road or Timor Plaza. Incidents have also been reported in less populated areas such as Christo Rei (the Jesus statue), Tasi Tolu, and in the vicinity of Back Beach (behind the Jesus Statue).

Roads in Dili are in fairly good condition. The further out from Dili one is, the more hazardous the route is likely to be. The roads outside of the Dili district are especially perilous, given mountainous terrain and poor road maintenance. During the rainy season (October-March), driving can be very hazardous, as flash flooding occurs. Driving conditions are frequently hazardous due to poor road quality, heavy traffic, poor signage and a lack of street lighting. Large crowds can form quickly after traffic accidents and can become violent with little warning.

Travelers should avoid using shared-ride “microlet” buses, as they are often over-crowded and are frequently involved in accidents. Microlets, moto taxis, and taxis have been known to drive recklessly and often do not adhere to traffic laws. Caution should be exercised when travelling by boat, ferry or other sea-craft in Timor-Leste as seaworthiness cannot be relied upon, passenger limits are not always observed and sufficient lifejackets may not be provided.

Due to Timor-Leste’s geographical location north of the Eurasian and Australian tectonic plates, it is exposed to the risk of earthquakes and associated tsunamis. Earthquakes, though not the most frequently occurring natural hazard in Timor-Leste, cost the country more than any other singular natural hazard. Earthquakes cause significant damage because they normally trigger extensive landslides, damaging livestock, roads, infrastructure, and property. Access to bridges and roads become impassable, and houses are regularly destroyed or damaged. The mountainous terrain of Timor-Leste as well as years of poor agricultural techniques contribute to the likelihood of landslides.

Though there is no recorded history of tsunami occurrences, they have the ability to cause significant damage to coastal cities, especially along the south coast. This is complicated by the fact there are few earthquake resistant structures in Dili or district capitals. The majority of private dwellings being constructed are non-engineered concrete/ masonry buildings. These buildings will likely have a high rate of failure, in a strong earthquake (6.0-6.9 magnitude) and devastating levels in a major earthquake (7.0-7.9) with an epicenter close to Dili or other district capitals.

Malaria, chikungunya, dengue, filariasis and Japanese encephalitis are prevalent in all areas of Timor-Leste. Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are reported in some locations. Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (such as gastroenteritis, typhoid and hepatitis) are prevalent.

Crocodiles have been sighted on beaches and in-land waterways around Timor-Leste, including near Manatuto, Baucau and some beaches in Dili. There have been reports of crocodile attacks taking place, particularly in the eastern districts and along the southern coast.

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Page last modified: 05-10-2016 20:36:33 ZULU