East Timor: A Nation Waits

Until recently it had been assumed that Xanana Gusmão would become President of East Timor after the UN shepherded it to independence. His resignation – ahead of elections in August – over how a new constitution is being drawn up, has intensified concern that the transition may be neither smooth nor timely.

The World Today Published 1 May 2001 Updated 26 October 2020 6 minute READ

Simon Chesterman

Directs the Transitional Administration project, International Peace Academy

The temporary nature of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is most evident in its accommodation. Moored a few hundred metres from the old Portuguese Governor’s House is the Veksa, a floating four-star hotel connected to the island by an umbilical cord of pipes and wires, home to many senior staff. The Governor’s House itself, inadequate to the size of the UN presence, is supplemented by prefabricated offices deposited by ship and crane to be carted away at the end of the mission.

When most UN staff had no shelter beyond their own tent city, such measures were a pragmatic response to the destruction wrought by Indonesian-supported militias after the independence referendum of August 1999. Now some Timorese see the floating hotel and the container-offices as indicative of the world’s temporary interest in this land that had almost become accustomed to being forgotten.

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