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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
E Timor marks year of freedom

Jonathan Head
BBC correspondent in Dili

The people of East Timor have been celebrating a year of their existence as an independent state.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao at a anniversary football match
Modest celebrations after a hard year
At a low-key ceremony in the capital, Dili, President Xanana Gusmao acknowledged the frustration felt by many East Timorese over the slow pace of development, but he insisted the country remains stable and promised a better performance by the government.

In the blinding morning sun, East Timor's new army and police force paraded in front of diplomats and government ministers to mark the first year of independence.

There were a few tears in the eyes of some of the veteran guerrilla fighters as the red, black and yellow national flag was raised.

But this was a more sombre occasion than last year's spectacular show organised by the United Nations as it handed over authority to the new government.

Hard year

The past year has been very hard for the people of East Timor.

The economy contracted sharply as UN staff pulled out.

There is no prospect for employment for the youth and both the legal and the infrastructural conditions of the country do not attract investors
President Xanana Gusmao

Education levels here are very low.

Much of the infrastructure is still in ruins from the violent Indonesian withdrawal four years ago, and there are few jobs available.

In his speech on Tuesday, President Xanana Gusmao referred several times to those hardships.

But his was an optimistic message.

The extraordinary resilience shown by the East Timorese during the Indonesian occupation would, he said, see them through the difficult first years of independence.

That sentiment was reflected by many of the onlookers who watched the ceremony.

Most said the last year had been much tougher than they expected.

But they still expressed pride in their young country's achievement just in having come this far.

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"Euphoria [of independence] is long gone"

Timeline: East Timor 1975 to 2002
17 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: East Timor
10 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
East Timor: Birth of a nation
19 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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