Page last updated at 05:50 GMT, Wednesday, 9 May 2007 06:50 UK

The tears of East Timor's youth

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, East Timor

Young voting officials putting up election posters
Some young people are interested in politics, but not many

In the tiny town of Liquica, six men sit by the side of the road singing about loss.

The song is about the sadness of watching people you love leave East Timor.

But there is plenty to cry about for those left behind too.

"Everything's very limited for us" said Oti, "so whoever becomes president, I want him to improve education and agriculture, and to solve the problem that's happening now."

Oti hangs out with this group most days - they call themselves the Naik Gang.

They are all between 18 and 22 years old, and they all have complaints about the lack of opportunity here for young people.

Young people are involved in conflict, because they've nothing else to do
But they also have complaints about the political choices on offer in this presidential election.

Both candidates - Nobel Peace winner Jose Ramos-Horta and parliamentary speaker Francisco Guterres - are long-standing political figures.

"I think the [candidates] are too old now," Oti explained. "They may have lots of experience, but they're not capable of solving problems, so I think we have to look for new, young leaders take the country forward."


Both the candidates in this election are established political figures - leaders of the independence movement - but that has not always been seen as asset in the eyes of young people.

Last year a political crisis in East Timor provoked a wave of unrest. At least 37 people died and 150,000 were displaced to camps, among them a man called Marcel.

He met me outside the bare white tent where he has lived since last May, when Timorese from the west of the country clashed with those from the east.

"We're here now because of the clash between the leaders," he said, "because of their attitudes, their problems, their interests. And now we have to live in tents."

Young voters in East Timor with Mr Ramos-Horta
Some young voters feel all the candidates on offer are too old

The political crisis, which began when the former prime minister sacked half the nation's tiny army, spread quickly to the main population, where around 50% of people are unemployed.

Many young people, like Marcel and Oti, believe the support they gave their leaders in the struggle for independence has not been rewarded, and that the government has not listened to their needs.

Now even the country's iconic current president, Xanana Gusmao, is finding it harder to keep their loyalty.

Marcel told me that he believed Mr Gusmao had failed to call the young people together, and had failed to secure them jobs.

"That's why young people are involved in conflict," he said, "because they've nothing else to do."

Top of the list of voters' wishes here is peace and stability.

But for East Timor's new president to secure that, and heal the rifts in the country, he's going to have to work hard to meet the basic needs of its growing young population.

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