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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Eyewitness: East Timor's road to recovery
Men gamble in the central market in Dili
Abe thinks East Timor's odds for success are good
As East Timor prepares for independence, BBC News Online talked to local UN worker Abe Barreto Soares about how his life has changed since Indonesian rule and about his hopes for the future.

Abe Barreto Soares has not even been able to see for himself much of the violence and suppression that East Timor suffered under years of Indonesian rule.

We need to be mentally ready to face the challenges

Abe Barreto Soares
The impoverished island had no universities, so Abe and his contemporaries were forced to study in Indonesia.

Even though he was free to pursue his education, "I felt like my hands and mouth were tied. I couldn't say what I felt about East Timor".

After six years in Indonesia, Abe went to Canada on an exchange programme. While he was there, news reached him of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre when 200 East Timorese were killed by Indonesian forces during a peaceful protest in a church cemetery.

Abe sought political asylum in Canada, glad to be away from "this big prison called East Timor", staying for seven years until 1998 when he moved to Portugal.

He finally returned to East Timor in 2000 and says he is now "happy to be part of the process" of readying the territory for full independence in just over a month's time.

'Pillar' of the nation

Abe says that the presidential elections are an important step in the transition.

As long as everyone recognises that everyone has the right to exist then they will have the chance to enjoy independence

Abe Barreto Soares

Although the president will play a largely ceremonial role, "he is one of the pillars... the guarantor" of the nation.

He is "capable of giving the people the feeling of being secure and being in a peaceful environment to run their lives".

Abe says that he believes East Timor has a bright future, as long as everyone accepts it will take time to accomplish.

"To be an independent nation... is not just to say that we have independence... We need to be mentally ready to face the challenges".

Shaking off the past

The one issue he sometimes worries about, he says, is unity.

He says that conflicts in the past could cause divisions in the future.

But "as long as everyone recognises that everyone has the right to exist then they will have the chance to enjoy independence.

"I believe the spirit of reconciliation, of unity, can tackle these tendencies for conflict."

Since the terrible violence that accompanied the vote for independence in 1999, there have been "small incidents here and there" but nothing very serious, according to Abe.

"We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor's refugees head home
04 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao calls East Timor refugees home
26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia pledges $3m to East Timor
25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
E Timor, Indonesia sign accords
21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor launches truth commission
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