Stephen de Tarczynski, Melbourne Juvinal Dias has first-hand experience of mistreatment at the hands of a foreign power. Born in 1981 in Tutuala, a village in the far east of Timor-Leste, Dias' family fled into the jungle following the 1975 invasion by Indonesia.
It was during this time, hiding from the Indonesian military, that his eldest sister died of malnutrition.
Speaking to IPS from Dili, Timor-Leste's capital, Dias told of how "the struggle" against the Indonesian occupation had intertwined with his own family's history. "I heard, as I grew up, how the war affected the family," he says.
Dias' father fought against the occupation with FALANTIL guerrillas, the armed wing of FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste) before surrendering in 1979. Up to 200,000 people are believed to have been killed by Indonesian forces or died from conflict-related illness and hunger during the brutal 1975-1999 occupation.
"People saw the Indonesian military as public enemy number one," says Dias, now a researcher at the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, known as La'o Hamutuk in the local Tetum language.
But things have changed. Dias says that it is now Australia that provokes the ire of the Timor-Leste public, who regard their southern neighbour as a "thief country" due to its behaviour towards Timor-Leste over disputed territory in the Timor Sea.
Timor-Leste has long-sought a permanent maritime boundary along the median or equidistance line, as is often the norm in such cases where nations' Exclusive Economic Zones overlap.
For Timor-Leste's government, concluding a maritime boundary with Australia is linked to the young nation's long history of subjugation, including its centuries as a Portuguese colony, its occupation by Indonesia and its treatment by Australia.
"The achievement of maritime boundaries in accordance with international law is a matter of national sovereignty and the sustainability of our country. It is Timor-Leste's top national priority," said Timor-Leste's independence hero Xanana Gusmao last year.
Australia, for its part, has repeatedly avoided entering into such negotiations. Instead, it has concluded a number of revenue sharing deals based on jointly developing petroleum deposits in the Timor Sea with both an independent Timor-Leste and Indonesia during the occupation years.
Australia argues that any border with its much smaller neighbour be based on Australia's continental shelf, which extends well into the Timor Sea, and should therefore be drawn much closer to Timor-Leste. Australia has taken a hard-nosed approach over border negotiations for decades with nations to its north.
Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars.
If the median line was accepted by both sides, Greater Sunrise would likely fall within Timor-Leste's jurisdiction, potentially providing one of the poorest nations in the region with much-needed revenue. However, under current arrangements based on a 2006 deal, Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed to equally divide revenue from Greater Sunrise.
But this deal is set to expire on April 10 following Timor-Leste's January notification to Australia that it was withdrawing from the treaty. Timor-Leste had been calling for this agreement to be scrapped following the 2012 revelations by a former Australian spy that Australia bugged Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms in 2004 to gain the upper-hand in the bilateral negotiations that eventually led to the 2006 treaty.
Australia has also been criticised for a 2013 raid on the offices of Timor-Leste's Australian lawyer in which sensitive documents were seized.
While Timor-Leste took Australia to the International Court of Arbitration in April last year in the hope of forcing Australia to settle on a permanent maritime boundary, Australia's 2002 withdrawal from compulsory dispute settlement procedures under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea meant, according to the Australian government, that Australia was not bound by any decision made by the court.
But in a significant development, Australia announced in January that it would seek to establish a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste by September this year.
Ella Fabry, an Australian activist with the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says that Australia now has an opportunity to go some way in righting the wrongs of the past by negotiating in good faith with Timor-Leste and agreeing to a border along the median line.
"For Timor-Leste, it could mean literally billions of dollars of extra funding for them that could then go on to fund health, education [and] all of those things that a developing country needs," she says.
Investment in such areas is indeed needed in Timor-Leste. According to global charity Oxfam, 41 percent of Timor-Leste's population of 1.13 million people live on less than 1.25 dollars per day and almost 30 percent do not have access to clean drinking water.
Australia's foreign affairs department identifies high maternal mortality rates and poor nutrition leading to stunted growth in half of all children under five years as being among key areas of concern.
Whether negotiations eventually lead to the financial windfall for Timor-Leste that some are predicting remains to be seen. A maritime boundary agreement along the median line is far from certain and there are serious concerns over the viability of a gas pipeline connecting Greater Sunrise to Timor-Leste, not least because it must cross the three kilometre-deep Timor Trough.
For Juvinal Dias, what often gets overlooked in the maritime boundary dispute is his nation's over-reliance on income from petroleum resources, which, he argues, has led to a lack of investment in the non-oil economy. "The oil money has dominated everything in Timor-Leste," he says.
Timor-Leste has earned more than 12 billion dollars from its joint petroleum development area with Australia. It set up a petroleum fund in 2005, the balance of which was 15.84 billion dollars at the end of 2016, down some 1.3 billion since its peak in May 2015.
According to La'o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste's oil and gas income peaked in 2012 and will continue to fall, with the Bayu Undan field expected to end production by 2020. It has also warned that if current spending trends continue, the petroleum fund itself will run dry by 2026.
This is a serious concern in a country where petroleum revenue has provided some 90 percent of the budget, leading to what Dias describes as "a very dangerous situation".
He says that while there is a growing awareness in Timor-Leste about the importance of diversifying its economy, there is no time to waste. "If we can't manage our economy today, the poverty will be even worse in the next decade," says Dias.
Australia can't lecture anyone on a solution for the South China Sea until it sorts out its own long-running sea border dispute with East Timor where $40 billion in oil and gas resources is in play.
That's according to former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, who says Australia will be "morally obliged" to accept a solution if the Permanent Court of Arbitration rules in favour of East Timor in a dispute over where a sea border between the two countries should lie.
Mr Bracks' comments come as a new documentary outlining the long running dispute between the two nations screens around Australia over the next three months.
Time to Draw the Line outlines Australia and East Timor's long relationship from WWII to more recent allegations of spying by Australian intelligence operatives.
The documentary is highly critical of Australia's bid to gain an equal share of the energy wealth of the Joint Petroleum Development Area by refusing to agree to a border.
Mr Bracks, who has been a pro-bono adviser to East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, for nearly a decade, told News Corp this week the dispute had the potential to sour relationships between the two countries despite their long, close relationship.
Australia was insisting on boundaries in the South China Sea but was really "holding it over" East Timor in its own backyard, a country which needed the royalties from the Greater Sunrise fields to develop, he said.
Australia has negotiated 98.2 per cent of the sea borders it shares with other nations, except for the 1.8 per cent it shares with East Timor.
"The most surprising thing is that Australia has argued the case that they will get 50 per cent of the resources, even though its 150km from Timor and 400km from Australia," Mr Bracks said.
"They have argued on the basis that the mid point should count from the end of the continental shelf. That argument is not sustainable anywhere in the world."
Australia's announcement in January that it would negotiate a permanent border over the next 12 months was "good news", Mr Bracks said. The two nations have also agreed to tear up a 2006 treaty on the Greater Sunrise reserve in the Timor Sea.
The treaty split future revenue of Greater Sunrise reserve equally between East Timor and Australia and put a 50-year moratorium on a permanent maritime boundary.
It comes after an ASIS whistleblower claimed in 2012 that Australian intelligence operatives had bugged the East Timor Government's cabinet rooms in 2004, which gave Australia the advantage in negotiations which led to the treaty.
Mr Bracks believes the case for East Timor to secure the midway border which would give it sole benefits of royalties from the Greater Sunrise fields is "very strong".
He said the documentary, funded largely by the East Timor Government, would enhance public support in Australia for the midway border.
Paulina Quintao Eight candidates have confirmed that they will be contesting this year's presidential election after fulfilling the criteria, including the required number of supporters.
Director of the Secretariat for Technical and Electoral Administration (STAE) Acilino Manuel Branco said they had coordinated with the Court of Appeal in terms of verifying the list of supporters for each candidate.
"There were eight candidates in the verification process and at the end the Court of Appeal informed that all of them will move forward to the election scheduled on March 20," he said at a press conference at STAE in Dili.
The candidates are Amorim Vieira, Antonio Maher, Antonio da Conceicao, Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo, Jose Luis Guterres, Luis Alves Tilman, Angela Freitas and Jose Antonio Neves.
Both Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo and Angela Freitas also contested the 2012 presidential elections.
Based on the schedule, candidates will conduct their political campaign during the period March 3 to 17. Ballots papers will be printed between February 24 and March 13 and then distributed to voting stations in Australia and Portugal, as well as in the municipalities.
He said STAE is also currently completing the accreditation process for international and national observers, including media.
There are over 747,000 registered voters in Timor-Leste, with a further 1,332 overseas voters expected to take part in both the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo appealed to STAE employees to maintain their neutrality and professionalism throughout the elections process.
"As a citizen, each of us has the right to choose any candidate or parties, but as a public servant who is working in the electoral administration you must show your professionalism, especially maintain a rigorous impartiality in your daily work," he said.
To ensure the impartiality of the election process, he also called on all responsible state bodies, including the National Electoral Commission (CNE) and STAE, to adhere to the proper regulations.
Paulina Quintao Budget delays are impeding preparations by the Secretariat for Technical and Electoral Administration (STAE) for the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for March 20 so that STAE could be adequately prepared in time for the election.
In a surprise visit to STAE recently, Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo called for the process to be sped up so that STAE could be adequately prepared in time for the election.
However, he recognized that several technical issues had already been addressed, including voter registration both in Timor and overseas.
"We don't have many problems, but there are some logistical issues which should be sped up like access to the budget, car maintenance and the purchase of [ballot] boxes," he said after a visit to check on the progress of the STAE team in Kaikoli, Dili.
He said the government had an obligation to find a solution to the problems by providing adequate conditions for STAE to support the general election process.
In regards to the process, the Minister for the Coordination of Administration Affairs and Minister for State Administration, Dionisio Babo Soares, said the ministry was required to submit a budget proposal to the Prime Minister's cabinet for approval before handing it to the Ministry of Finance for justification and budget allocation.
"That's our system, but we have already submitted the proposal to the Prime Minister's cabinet for approval," he said. Because of the budget delay, he said some direct adjustments to the tender process for companies would need to be made.
Voting will take place simultaneously on March 20 both inside the country and overseas, depending on the local time, with all votes to be counted in Timor.
"We have already allocated the funding to transport the special bag to collect the votes for counting in Timor," he said. He said the total budget allocated to the presidential and parliamentary elections is $10 million.
Paulina Quintao The Disabilities Association of Timor-Leste (ADTL) has called on the government to create better infrastructure to ensure people with disabilities are able to take part in this year's general election as is their right.
ADTL Executive Director Joao Pequino said the lower rate of participation among disabled people in previous elections was due to the lack of accessibility and adequate information.
Although disabled people did not request special treatment, he said the government should create adequate conditions for them to participate in the democratic process.
"Those who are blind cannot vote because they cannot read the voting ballot which is printed, those who are deaf do not understand the information because the national media doesn't use sign language, particularly National Television (TVTL) and those that use wheelchairs cannot access voting centers as there are no ramps," he said at a national seminar to discuss the participation of people with disabilities in the 2017 election.
"The government should consider this issue and make good preparations so that they also can participate in the election."
According to data from the 2015 population census, there are more than 32,000 disabled people over 17 years of age in Timor-Leste who have a right to vote in the next general election.
Disability representative Cesario da Silva said although the constitution guaranteed the right of people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society, in reality they had been isolated by the government.
"The government should print ballot papers in brail so blind people can read them, and this can respond to their concerns," he said.
Meanwhile, the National Director of National Election Commission (CNE), Deolindo Ramos, acknowledged that people with disabilities had experienced difficulties in voting in previous elections.
"We used schools as voting centers and some did not have wheelchair access, so that was difficult for those who used wheelchairs to participate in the election, and another thing was that we did not have special voting ballots printed for those who were blind," he said.
Therefore, he said it was important to raise these concerns with politicians to try and eliminate such obstacles in the future.
He said the commission was working with NGOs in the disability sector to raise awareness about the issue and because, for example, people who were deaf needed someone with sign language skills so they could understand the process.
ADTL also ran a one-day training course aimed at educating the government about the importance of creating adequate conditions for disabled people so that they could participate in the electoral process.
While plans to build a major cement project in Timor-Leste have brought the welcome promise of jobs for local people, the environmental and social costs could be catastrophic.
The district of Baucau, home to Timor-Leste's second-largest city, sits on a large limestone formation. For local subsistence communities, this provides their water catchment. For a mining company, it provides the raw ingredients for cement.
The idea of building a large-scale cement-manufacturing facility was first floated by the late Len Buckeridge, a West Australian businessman who was listed by Forbes magazine as one of Australia's richest men in 2014 before his death later that year. His vision, however, is being carried forward by TL Cement a privately owned, largely Australian-backed company, working with the Timor-Leste government under the banner "Your Dream We Will Build!"
The TL Cement mine, which is due to be completed by September 2018, has already begun to raise serious questions among locals and international observers for its sheer size and scale. Also, a full environmental impact study that was due to be approved by the start of 2016 according to the company's own work schedule has yet to materialise. The apparent lack of environmental transparency and potential impacts on nearby subsistence communities has added new urgency to their concerns.
Charles Scheiner is an American researcher working for La'o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste institute for development monitoring and analysis. He says his organisation wrote to Timor-Leste's ombudsman in May, urging him to look into the "near-total failure" to enforce environmental licensing laws for major projects. The letter has been seen by The Saturday Paper.
"We hope this pattern will not be perpetuated with TL Cement," Scheiner says. "Projects like this can have disastrous environmental consequences including marine, groundwater and air pollution if they are not well-managed and regulated. We should not repeat the experiences of many impoverished countries with mining projects, including some run by Australian companies, where the citizens suffer while overseas shareholders profit. As a new nation, Timor-Leste should learn from others, and not copy their mistakes."
The $US520 million project involves drilling into vast limestone escarpments close to Baucau. At full capacity, it would produce 1.65 million tonnes of cement clinker base a year. That means 5000 tonnes of limestone will need to be extracted each day 70 per cent of which will be exported to the Australian market, where the bulk of the profits will be made.
Accordingly, the project has already won some powerful supporters in the upper echelons of politics and business in Australia, including the support of senior Coalition ministers and senators including Mathias Cormann, Julie Bishop, Michaelia Cash, Dean Smith and Chris Back.
The project has been spruiked by its company chief executive, James Rhee, who has held presentations at the Perth Rotary Club championing the benefits of the mine for both Timorese people and Australian investors.
Timor-Leste was chosen for its large, high-quality reserves of limestone and its proximity to Australia and with the promise that it will create thousands of jobs for local people during construction and then provide 600 permanent jobs once operational. However, a number of local and regional environment groups and observers have raised serious questions about the potential negative impacts of the mine particularly in light of the plans to extract massive amounts of limestone and clay in areas with fragile "karst ecology" in very close proximity to local subsistence communities.
Karst ecology refers to areas of specialised habitat and delicate hydrology. If these ecosystems are damaged, it can have negative consequences for local water supplies.
"The Baucau communities have co-existed with the karst structure and landscape for many years," says Asia-Pacific environmental consultant Lee Tan.
"The ecological and social impacts of the cement plant are not fully assessed and community engagement has been brief. Timor's technical capacity to manage and regulate such a big project is very limited...
"As a young developing nation, cement is an important commodity. However, the massive extraction of limestones and clay can cause irreversible damage to local communities, leaving behind a huge cavity posing long-term risks and hazards. Cement production is a highly polluting activity and requires a massive level of energy consumption to be carried out."
Although the company has released a terms-of-reference document for an environmental impact study, the actual study has not yet been released. The terms-of-reference report noted that the bores to supply water to the Baucau mine will need to be designed to avoid interference with "major springs in the area that are used for public water supply, bathing, agricultural irrigation and that have spiritual significance".
According to a recent paper by Melbourne University human geographer Lisa Palmer, the ecology of water in Baucau and the ways in which diverse local water-management institutions coexist in management of the underground water resources are essential in ensuring proper water supply to the city.
"... in Baucau's distinctive karst (limestone bedrock) topography the local management of water, and the springs from which it emerges, is deeply embedded in the most important organising principles of Timorese (and Austronesian) social life," she wrote.
Timor-Leste already has a major problem with clean water and sanitation and, as a result, has the highest rates of stunted growth and malnutrition among children.
According to the 2016 report Caught Short, by international charity WaterAid, 58 per cent of children under five in Timor-Leste suffer from stunting, which affects a child's physical development as well as their cognitive and emotional development. This stunting usually occurs as a result of malnutrition in the first two years of a child's life, caused in large part by lack of access to clean water.
Observers fear the location and proximity of the mine to subsistence communities could make the situation worse for them. Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, an environmental adviser to the Timor-Leste government and the co-founder of the local environment group Haburas Foundation, says he shares these concerns about the potential impacts on local communities' water supplies.
"I agree, the project site is in an important area not only the limestone area but it is also important for groundwater systems in karstic terrain. Lifelong community dependency to area, cultural aspects, rituals, livelihoods, local politics and all societal systems will be impacted and influenced by the future cement/mine industry," he says.
De Carvalho is also of the view that the local community consultation on the project has thus far been inadequate. "I feel we need more and do that in a simple way, simple language, engage more participation, in open process and doing by a proper consultant that fully understand the local societal system."
However, he says he is still waiting for the final environmental impact study to make a final assessment, and stresses that under Timor-Leste law there is a requirement for "proper socialisation" of environmental impacts of mining projects to public audiences and in particular to affected communities.
But a further concern about the cement project, according to Lee Tan, is that the relatively weak economy and poor democratic structures in place in Timor-Leste may leave the country vulnerable and unable to defend itself if this large Australian conglomerate should ever take legal action.
Her concerns are not without foundation TL Cement's Australian parent company, BGC, has a history of taking legal action when mining projects don't eventuate. In 2012 director Len Buckeridge sued the West Australian government for $1 billion over delayed approval for a private port at Cockburn Sound near Kwinana in Western Australia, and earlier that same year he had sued a forklift driver who reportedly made defamatory comments about him on Facebook.
"In the event of the project being blocked or delayed, Timor will be weak in defending itself from this large corporation. In the context of the country, the project can potentially spark unrest if it affects water supply and creates other environmental impacts, which will negatively impact on local livelihoods. The excavation of limestone will leave a huge hole which Timor will have little means to deal with, posing risk and hazards to local people in the future," Tan says.
When contacted by The Saturday Paper, a spokesman from TL Cement confirmed that the environmental impact study and "socialisation schedule" was running behind, but that work had already begun on the port to ship the cement out of Timor-Leste. James Rhee responded: "Unfortunately we haven't received any environmental approval yet and I have nothing to say."
One thing is certain if the new TL Cement mine goes ahead, it will provide a test case for Australian companies operating large-scale mining projects in Timor-Leste. The project's environmental, social and political impacts should be closely observed, Tan notes, to ensure they benefit the people of this tiny new nation without destroying the country's fragile environment and water catchments.
The ultrasound machine donated to Timor-Leste by Forbes Medical Centre is in constant use in Same Hospital, saving patients a very long trip by rough roads to the capital Dili.
Sometimes communities can decide to support a project that can really make a difference to the lives of others.
That's what happened last year when a 40 foot container packed tight with surplus medical equipment from the new Forbes and Parkes Hospitals, and other donated items, was delivered by sea to Dili, capital of Timor-Leste.
This was made possible by the cooperation and generosity of Lachlan Health Service, Forbes and Parkes Shire Councils, Parkes Rotary and Ex-Serviceman's Club, Parkes and Peak Hill Uniting Church and Parkes Assemblies of God congregations, and others.
Potts Removals made sure the container was well packed and Linfox transported the container to Sydney. Also packed in the container were items donated by Forbes Medical Centre, including a well used ultrasound machine.
Jenny Webb, Forbes Shire Councillor and Manager Forbes Hospital Medical Imaging said: "The ultrasound machine was donated to Forbes Hospital many years ago by a private Sydney practice. When the Hospital got a new ultrasound it went across the road to Forbes Medical Centre, who then donated it to the Timor-Leste project".
A team of volunteers from Parkes, Peak Hill and Sydney unpacked the container in Dili and delivered items by truck on rough roads across the mountain range that divides Timor down the middle, to clinics in three remote small villages, and to the regional hospital in Same,
It was decided the Forbes ultrasound machine would go to Same Hospital, in a town of about 20,000 people with reliable electricity. Same Hospital also had some Cuban trained staff who could train local staff to use the ultrasound machine.
Bill Shallvey, one of the Parkes' volunteers said: "Ultrasound machines are rare in Timor-Leste. Before this machine was donated to Same Hospital, there was no ultrasound on the southern side of Timor that faces Australia.
"Previously patients took about five hours to travel about 75 kms from Same to Dili to have an ultrasound. Patients from Weberek, one of the remote villages that we took hospital equipment to, would take up to eight hours on terrible roads to travel about 155 kms to Dili.
"Usually women didn't have an ultrasound and gave birth without the opportunity to have their pregnancy checked, something we just take for granted. Often the few midwives or their assistants in remote areas had to deal with unpleasant surprises when a baby was born.
"So the Forbes ultrasound machine is now a rare and precious piece of equipment in Timor-Leste. All the donated equipment was very welcome. We had the pleasure of seeing a new mother using an actual maternity bed. Nebulisers, glucometers, baby scales, bed sheets and even chairs so patients could sit down in clinics, for example, were all appreciated.
Graeme Miller, Forbes Mayor and Lachlan Health Councillor said: "It is fantastic to see the Forbes ultrasound machine being well used in Same Hospital, and to know that the generosity of our Forbes and Parkes communities has made such a difference to the health of people in remote parts of Timor-Leste".
Paulina Quintao The Dili municipality authority has handed responsibility for waste management to the private sector.
President of the Dili municipality authority Gaspar Soares said it was more effective for the private sector to takeover waste management as employees worked seven days a week.
"Up until now the government, through the sanitation team, has been responsible for waste management, [but] they are public servants have Saturday and Sunday off, so the rubbish increases more," he said.
He said a big problem was that many communities continued to litter despite attempts to raise awareness about how to dispose of waste properly.
He said another problem faced by the Dili municipality was the issue of urbanization, which meant a high proportion of the population was now concentrated in the city, with many people building homes and selling things on the street arbitrarily.
"We have raised awareness very often and the law bans it (littering), but there has been no change because the communities don't have awareness," he said.
Based on the law decree number 33/2009, those caught littering may face fines of between $5 and $500. However, there was still no clarification on the scale of fines that people and companies must pay.
He also called on local authorities to continue raising awareness among communities as Dili city had a transient population and people didn't stay permanently in one place.
Meanwhile, national MP Eladio Faculto agreed with the government's decision to hand over waste management to the private sector, especially in terms of recycling.
"There are two types of rubbish: organic and non-organic, therefore is important to recycle organic rubbish into fertilizer, while rubbish like plastic can be turned into something else that can be used," he said.
The government currently pays private companies to remove rubbish in the city, but the high volume of waste meant they were unable to keep up.
Meanwhile, local resident Justino da Silva hoped that the government's plan to handover responsibility to the private sector would be implemented. "It is good to motivate the communities to collect the rubbish to be sold to the companies," he said.
Sometimes communities can decide to support a project that can really make a difference to the lives of others.
That's what happened last year when a 40 foot container packed tight with surplus medical equipment from the new Forbes and Parkes Hospitals, and other donated items, was delivered by sea to Dili, capital of Timor-Leste.
Packed in the container were items donated by Forbes Medical Centre, including an ultrasound machine.
Jenny Webb, Forbes Shire Councillor and Manager Forbes Hospital Medical Imaging said the ultrasound machine was donated to Forbes Hospital many years ago by a private Sydney practice.
"When the Hospital got a new ultrasound it went across the road to Forbes Medical Centre, who then donated it to the Timor-Leste project," she said.
A team of volunteers from Parkes, Peak Hill and Sydney unpacked the container in Dili and delivered items by truck on rough roads across the mountain range that divides Timor down the middle, to clinics in three remote small villages, and to the regional hospital in Same,
It was decided the Forbes ultrasound machine would go to Same Hospital, in a town of about 20,000 people with reliable electricity. Same Hospital also had some Cuban trained staff who could train local staff to use the ultrasound machine.
Bill Shallvey, one of the Parkes' volunteers said there had previously been no ultrasound on the southern side of Timor that faces Australia. "Previously patients took about five hours to travel about 75 kms from Same to Dili to have an ultrasound.
"Usually women didn't have an ultrasound and gave birth without the opportunity to have their pregnancy checked, something we just take for granted.
"So the Forbes ultrasound machine is now a rare and precious piece of equipment in Timor-Leste.
"We had the pleasure of seeing a new mother using an actual maternity bed. Nebulisers, glucometers, baby scales, bed sheets and even chairs so patients could sit down in clinics, for example, were all appreciated.
Graeme Miller, Forbes Mayor and Lachlan Health Councillor said, "It is fantastic to see the Forbes ultrasound machine being well used in Same Hospital, and to know that the generosity of our Forbes and Parkes communities has made such a difference to the health of people in remote parts of Timor-Leste."
The project was made possible by Lachlan Health Service, Forbes and Parkes Shire Councils, Parkes Rotary and Ex-Serviceman's Club, Parkes and Peak Hill Uniting Church and Parkes Assemblies of God congregations, Potts Removals and Linfox.
Contributed by the Lachlan Health Council
Paulina Quintao Timor-Leste continues to face big challenges in reducing HIV infection rates as many communities in rural areas still lack understanding about the risks and how the virus is transmitted.
In 2013, the government established the National Commission for Combating HIV/AIDS as a state institution to help coordinate a multi-sector response to HIV issues and raise awareness among communities.
However, Program Manager of the Hope organization Inacio Maria said one of the issues was that the government's national awareness campaign was only reaching municipality centers and not rural areas.
"In every place that we visit, we ask about HIV and they (communities) have no idea, they just know HIV is a bad disease, this means the information is just in the public places and not in rural areas," he said at a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Dili.
He also expressed concern about some of the misinformation being spread publicly, which meant people were often afraid to get tested at a health facility.
As a result, he said people considered HIV a bad disease that was a punishment from God or for going against their traditional belief system.
That's why he said it was important to prevent the spread of misinformation because HIV was not a bad disease, it is a virus that attacks the human immune system and therefore makes it easier for people to get sick.
He called for a nationwide awareness campaign involving experts who have an in-depth knowledge of the issue and could provide a detailed explanation to communities about how HIV is transmitted and the risks of contracting the virus.
While he agreed with the government's policy to stop the public distribution of condoms, he urged young people in particular to practice safe sex when having sexual relations with someone other than a long-term partner.
"We cannot distribute condoms, but if the people come and ask for a condom, then we give it to them because no-one can ban other people from having sexual relationships and with anyone else," he said.
According to national data, there were more than 600 cases of HIV registered from 2003 to July 2016. Of these, 75 people had died, while others were receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, which help to suppress the virus and prevent transmission.
Hope is a local organization that is working to advocate for the rights of people with HIV and also provides treatment support.
Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste Knut Ostby said that efforts to eliminate the HIV epidemic around the world had made significant progress due to advances in treatment, which has helped to reduce the number of deaths caused by the virus.
While the prevalence of HIV is low in Timor-Leste, he said the number of new cases continues to increase annually. "There is no cure for HIV infection, but we can work together on virus prevention and treatment areas," he said.
He said around the world, many people with HIV still did not know that they had been infected and that in some cases there was also a reluctance to seek ARV treatment due to the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
He said that data showed that in 2015 there were more than 36 million people living with HIV around the world and that there had been 2 million new infection cases and more than 1 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.
In response to the concerns, the Minister of State for Coordinating Social Affairs and Minister of Education, Antonio da Conceicao, said combating HIV transmission in the country was everyone's responsibility, not only the government's.
"The role of religion is very important to strengthen our spirit to change our public attitudes and behaviors," he said.
He added HIV virus was big concern for Timor-Leste because the society was still fragile in terms of economic development and knowledge. He said there are various risk factors, including social economy, attitude and people's public behavior.
Emma Rumney Falling health funding in Timor-Leste must be met with better planning and policies to manage rising costs, the World Bank has said.
The south-east Asian nation has made notable strides in its health system since gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002, at which time it had just 20 doctors for a population of one million.
However, it still has a considerable deficit in areas like health infrastructure or immunisation. At the same time, the country's largely oil-reliant economy has been hit hard by a collapse in prices spanning the past two years.
The country's petroleum revenues declined by 40% in 2015, which the IMF expects could plunge the public finances into deficits worth more than 20% of GDP this year, from a 25.9% surplus in 2014.
After more than doubling between 2008 and 2014, health expenditure is now being cut as the government looks to rein in its spending. Funds from donors are also predicted to decline considerably.
"With that in mind, now, more than ever, strategic planning and proactive health policies are critical to the continued and sustained improvement of the Timor-Leste health system," said Bolormaa Amgaabazar, the World Bank's country representative for Timor-Leste.
The bank's report recommended developing a strategy to maximise the value of the current health workforce rather than focusing on expansion, considering the health sector wage bill is expected to continue rising after growing by 344% between 2008 and 2014.
It also recommended fixing "significant inefficiencies", especially with regards to pharmaceutical costs. This could be achieved by collecting better data, strengthening management and execution and through public financial management reforms.
The ministry of health and health centres should also "systematically" document the budget, spending and use of resources in order to provide a basis for sound decision making, and develop long-term sustainability plans.
"The pressures that Timor-Leste is facing present an opportunity," the bank said, urging the government to look critically at its health system, identify challenges and improve service delivery and distribution.
Paulina Quintao According to data from the 2015 household census, 40,000 people in Timor-Leste (32%) still defecate in public as they don't have access to a toilet.
While the numbers have declined since the 2010 census, which showed that 39% of the population was publicly defecating, more work still needs to be done to ensure every community has access to toilets.
However, head of Sanitation and Environmental Health Tomasia de Sousa acknowledged that many communities were powerless because they lacked access to clean water and were unable to build adequate toilets.
"We need to strengthen their (communities) conscience, particularly in accessing water because adequate sanitation requires clean water," she said after participating at an event to mark World Toilet Day at the Comoro National Health Institute in Dili.
She said the government faced significant challenges in meeting the targets set out in the 2030 national strategic plan and the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs), which both state that all Timorese people should have access to toilets and clean water.
The Ministry of Health has integrated sanitation, hygiene, and environment issues within its family health program. This means responsibility for raising awareness among communities about the health implications of public defecation now rests with visiting health personnel.
She said people who lived in a non-hygienic environment were at risk of infectious disease, particularly children, with 58% of disease, including diarrhea, caused by poor sanitation.
Meanwhile, WaterAid officer Gertrudis Noviana Mau said water shortages were a major problem faced by many communities and meant toilets were not always sustainable.
She said WaterAid had established a community plumbing program, but was only working in Liquica and Covalima municipalities due to funding limitations.
"When we talk about sanitation, particularly being able to go to the toilet with dignity, women suffer a lot, so we try to educate them so that they will ask their husband to build a toilet," she said.
As part of the program, she said WaterAid was helping to facilitate the construction of toilets in communities by providing access to inexpensive and good quality materials.
WaterAid is an international organization that has been running programs in Timor-Leste since 2007 focused on hygiene education, including water and sanitation.
Paulina Quintao Women's activists are concerned that Timor-Leste's patriarchal system is a barrier to the promotion of gender equality as society continues to consider it a part of the culture.
Presidential adviser Idelta Maria Rodrigues said Timor-Leste's constitution guarantees women's participation in political, economic and social life.
Although Timor has ratified seven international conventions as a guideline for the promotion of equal rights, she said there had been problems in the implementation process due to the dominant patriarchal culture.
"How can we minimize negative practices so we can better promote [equal rights] and eliminate gender inequality in this society?" she said at the Joao Paulo room in Comoro, Dili.
Therefore, she said it was important to change people's attitudes so that equal value was given to both women and men according to the constitution.
The patriarchal system has become part of Timorese tradition, passed down through the generations in the context of strengthening the relationship between two families. However, she said the original context was now fading and that society often misinterpreted the tradition in daily life.
Meanwhile, President of the Dili Municipality Authority Gaspar Soares recognized that women's participation in the development process was limited in many countries, not only Timor.
He said it takes time to change people's mentality, but there had been progress, with some sections of society now actively encouraging women's participation in the development process.
"There are opportunities, but to participate in this process, women must prepare themselves to compete with men," he said. He said everyone must work hard to eliminate inequality in society and that change starts with each family.
Meanwhile, activist Bella Galhos said that although the patriarchal system continued to impede women, it was not actually a part of Timorese culture and it was possible to eliminate this sort of discrimination if all of society contributed.
"I love Timor, but I disagree with some parts of the culture because it excludes me as a woman from making progress," she said. "[The idea that] only woman can cook is not part of the culture, [but] the society wants to practice this in order to exclude women from making progress," she said.
She said education was important in changing patriarchal attitudes and that leaders should also set a good example about the equal treatment of men and women in society.
Paulina Quintao Although the number of Timorese women in the business sector remains small, more are getting involved as a way of improving their family's economic situation.
The Timor-Leste Ambassador for the World Association of Women Entrepreneurs, Kathleen Goncalves, said women faced many challenges that prevented them going forward, including lack of access to financial and business training.
"The women have interest, are dilligent and have good business plans, but have no budget to run [their businesses]," she said.
She said female entrepreneurs ran businesses in a wide range of industries, including contruction, culinary, fashion, tourism and carpentry.
Timor-Leste celebrated World Women's Entrepreneurship Day on November 19 for the first time last year to give businesswomen an opportunity to come together and discuss challenges and opportunities as a way of strengthening women's participation in the business sector.
Some of the initiatives included networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs and management training for small business owners. Goncalves said a total of 83 female entrepreneurs had registered with AEFTL, but the figure didn't include those in remote areas.
She also called on the government to make efforts to strengthen women's economic position, as well as allocate specific funds to support women in business.
As part of government reforms in 2015, the Secretariat of State for the Promotion of Equality (SEPI) to the Secretariat of State became the Secretariat for the Socio-Economic Support of Women (SEM), with a specific duty to strengthen women's economic position and address inequality.
That same year, the government issued the Maubisse declaration, asking the relevant ministries to strenghten women's role in business through their specific program plans.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State Veneranda Lemos acknowledged that although the number of women in business was still small, the government had established a clear policy to strenghten women's economic position in terms of providing training and funding.
Between 2008 and 2014, she said the government, through SEPI, had provided funds to 399 women's groups to launch businesses, but many were failing due to management problems.
"Women entrepreneurs, you should pay attention to your work so that we can bring our people out from suffering and poverty and our heroines' dreams can come true," she said.
In order to reduce violence against women and inequality in family and society, she said all entities must work together to strengthen women's role in the business sector.
Paulina Quintao A new report shows that most midwives in Timor-Leste still have little knowledge about the country's domestic violence law.
Researcher Dr Lidia Gomes from the National University of Timor Lorosae (UNTL) said the assistance provided by midwives was based on their existing knowledge and many had not received adequate training on how to assist victims of gender-based violence.
She said the research showed that only midwives who had received training from local organizations were providing effective assistance in terms of treatment and counseling.
"The midwives are humbly asking for training because so far the assistance provided is only based on their knowledge," she said following the launch of the report at UNTL in Dili.
The study looked at ways to strengthen the primary health care response to violence against women and was jointly conducted by UNTL and Australia's La Trobe University.
Limited human resources and the lack of space for counseling services for victims were also among the other challenges, according to Dr Gomes. She also urged local organizations working in capacity building to revise the training guidelines on gender-based violence issues as they did not reflect the reality.
The study was conducted in Baucau, Dili and Liquica municipalities after data from the 2010 demographic health survey showed that these regions had the highest prevalence of violence against women. There are a total of 782 midwives working in government institutions and private clinics across the country.
Dean of UNTL's Medical and Health Science Faculty Joao Martins said the aim of the study was to ask midwives about their opinions on the health assistance provided to victims as they were often the first person to attend to the women.
Although midwives' knowledge on the health implications of domestic violence was very good, their knowledge about the legal aspects was still low, particularly in terms of identifying cases and where to refer victims.
"We should strengthen their (midwives') knowledge so they can provide good assistance for women who are victims of gender-based violence," she said.
She said UNTL supported the introduction of training on gender-based violence issues for university students, particularly those in the medical department, so that they were prepared once they were working professionally in the field.
Meanwhile, Board President of Rede Feto Judit Ximenes said it was the Health Ministry's responsibility to facilitate training as the national action plan on gender-based violence clearly states that each ministry must provide training for their staff.
"Midwives should ask the ministry to provide them with training in the forensics area and share information about gender-based violence," she said.
She said violence against women and children was a crime and that anyone with information, including health personnel, had a responsibility to report such cases to the police.
Anne Barker East Timor's former finance minister and dual Australian citizen Emilia Pires is fighting to have her name cleared over charges she corruptly awarded a $1 million contract to her husband's company in Melbourne.
Pires has been sentenced to seven years' jail, and sought to have her appeal referred to a court in Portugal on the grounds East Timor's judges were biased against her and denied her a fair trial.
The District Court in Dili found Pires guilty in December of "crimes of economic participation in business".
Prosecutors alleged she corruptly awarded two contracts for 260 hospital beds and equipment to her husband Warren Macleod's company Mac's Metalcraft, based at Dandenong South in Melbourne.
However, the defence argued she never approved or signed the contracts. The contracts, worth more than $1 million, were to supply hydraulic and orthopaedic beds to Dili's Guido Valadares Hospital.
East Timor's former vice minister for health, Madalena Hanjam, was sentenced to four years for her role in the alleged corruption.
Prosecutors in Dili have now lodged an appeal to increase Pires' sentence to 10 years and Hanjam's sentence to seven.
During the trial prosecutors argued Pires had in 2012, as then finance minister, personally approved the funding and contracts for the beds as "an emergency", namely to respond to an outbreak of dengue fever in early 2012.
In the case against her, the prosecution argued there was no such dengue outbreak at the time, that the beds were unnecessary, they were not delivered until 2013, they had remained unused and in their packaging therefore, East Timor's Government had incurred a loss.
Prosecutors cited two occasions in 2012 where the then ministers had lunched in Dili with Pires's husband, allegedly to discuss the contracts.
Pires's defence counsel argued she regularly had lunch with all government ministers and if her husband was in Dili there was nothing illegal or suspicious about him accompanying them.
The defence also argued the dengue fever outbreak was widely documented and that key witnesses including two former prime ministers had attested to the desperate need for new beds at Guido Valadares Hospital.
One former prime minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, reportedly visited the hospital at the time. The defence counsel said in its closing arguments Mr Ramos-Horta had seen a "large number of sick people sleeping on the floor".
"He often saw two children on one bed. He said there was an 'epidemic'," the closing argument stated.
Another witness had reported the hospital's "beds, mattresses, pillows and linens were from the time of the Indonesian occupation and that they were rusty and infested with bedbugs, and the mattresses and sheets with blood stains".
Furthermore, the Ministry of Health had identified Mac's Metalcraft as "the only supplier of hydraulic beds for orthopaedic and the ICU (intensive care unit) and [...] the same beds are used in many hospitals in Australia".
Another former prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, gave evidence that no Timorese company manufactured such beds.
Pires's lawyer argued the trial was unbalanced and unfair from the outset and prosecutors had decided the defendants were guilty and sought to find evidence. However, the prosecution alleged Pires had colluded with Hanjam and her husband to award the contracts.
A letter from February 2012 shows Pires had written to Hanjam, who was then vice minister for health, advising that her "request for funds... to purchase equipment has been approved by the prime Mmnister [Xanana Gusmao]".
"With this approval, your ministry can now proceed to start the implementation of this transaction," the letter said. "Please note that the approval was given on the premise that the requested funding will not be used for any other purpose."
Both women have lodged appeals against their convictions. Pires, who left the country before the sentence was handed down, is now in Portugal. Neither Australia nor Portugal or indeed any country has an extradition treaty with East Timor.
She has also lodged a formal request to have her case referred to a court in Portugal, on the grounds East Timor's judges were prejudiced against her and lacked the "capacity or will to ensure justice".
In a recent letter to President Taur Matan Ruak, she complained of "serious inaccuracies and irregularities within [East Timor's] judicial system", and proclaimed her innocence.
She appealed to him to establish an international commission of "eminent, reputable and renowned specialists to examine not just the details of my case but the inherent deficiencies in the system".
"The Timorese people rightly expect the process through which justice is administered to be trustworthy, independent, transparent, efficient and fair," the letter said.
"I was not involved in any way in the awarding of the contracts. Moreover, the procurement systems are such that I simply could not have been involved even if I wanted to.
"The procurement of goods and services in this type of situation was the sole domain of the responsible ministry, in this case the Ministry of Health.
"They, and they alone, had the authority to decide what to purchase, and who to purchase it from.
"Indeed, it is clear and undeniable that I did not decide to purchase beds, that I did not choose the supplier of the beds, that I did not negotiate the contracts, that I did not sign the contracts, that I did not approve the contracts and that I did not order the payment of the beds.
"That was all done in the Ministry of Health, which was the competent entity and did what it had to do in accordance with the existing laws."
Mr Gusmao, now East Timor's Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, recently wrote a separate letter to Mr Ruak, proclaiming Pires's innocence and accusing the judiciary of corruption.
Pires said the Dili District Court rejected her request to have her appeal heard in Portugal, but she is now appealing against that decision.
The court has made no public comment but senior legal figures in Dili have defended the judicial process and accused Mr Gusmao of political interference.
Pires was born in East Timor but moved to Melbourne with her family in 1975 to flee the violence that followed Indonesia's occupation. She studied in Melbourne and began her career as a public servant in the Victorian Government.
Venidora Oliveira The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) has established Timor-Leste Coffee Producers Association (APKTL), aimed at controlling the price of coffee in the country.
Minister Estanislau da Silva said the government also planned to set price of coffee based on international standards as currently there was a lack of certainty in relation to quality and price.
He also called on the APKTL to work with the government in coffee-growing areas and also raise any concerns.
"The government cannot establish coffee prices or a competitive price, therefore the association will take responsibility," he said.
Association members include representatives from agricultural communities, as well as coffee specialists. This is the first time the government has established a dedicated association for coffee producers.
The minister hoped that the presence of APKTL would push the government to pay closer attention to coffee production and develop the industry as a way of generating state revenue.
National MP Josefa Alvares Soares the initiative would help control coffee prices and avoid manipulation. "This is a good program so that the price is balanced and steady," she said.
However, she called on the association to work with sincerity and nationalism in developing coffee production in the country.
National MP Jacinta Abucau said it was still too early to talk about progress as APKTL was only a new association. However, she hoped that APKTL would work efficiently to develop the coffee industry, both in Timor and overseas.
The descent into A-grade Oceania begins barely an hour outside the Australian mainland. Silvery clouds, deep shades of green-blue ocean, and miles-long beaches appear against a backdrop of huge mountains cradling the capital, Dili.
Welcome to Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste (translating to "East East") is a former Portuguese colony with a starkly different culture, religion, and history to its surrounding neighbors. Only 14 years old, the country was born out of a decades-long civil war with Indonesia. The independence movement culminated in 1999, and a brand new country emerged from its cocoon in 2002.
As one of the newest countries on Earth, Timor has come a long way in rebuilding itself over the past 15 years, but it's still considered one of the least economically developed countries. More than 50% of inhabitants live below the poverty line. It's one of the most oil-dependent nations on the planet, and with globally decreasing demand for oil and gas energy, there's a pressing need for a more diverse economy.
Enter that big complex challenge: food. How do you feed your population when food isn't readily available? How do you create demand so farmers can gain wealth? How do you empower subsistence farmers to meet that demand? How do you improve market literacy so growers can gain wealth?
A huge amount of Timor's food is imported, with dozens of ships gracing Dili's stunning coastline each day. People buy international food, which translates into a diverse, global menu for many of Timor's restaurants and cafes, incorporating tastes of Indonesia, Australia, and Portugal, among others. There's minimal demand for local food. What's more, Timor's aid economy (not to mention the stunning, pristine beaches) has invited a large expat community. Given the cost, it's often foreigners (malae in Tetun, the national language) who dine out, and the main demographic restaurants and cafes cater to.
It's not always possible to buy local, but many businesses do try. At Black Rock Resort and Restaurant in the Liquica district (around an hour from Timor's capital Dili), the menu features nasi goreng and Timorese-style fried chicken side by side with good ol' sammie and chips. While their steak comes from New Zealand and the olives from other regions, their fish (including whole big barramundi) is a local catch you'll find many youngsters selling on the streets of Dili.
"It's important to support the people here they're very happy we have this restaurant," said Hindum Langko, who has worked at Black Rock for four years. "They say they're very happy they have money because of the business here, as we're getting local fresh food right from the people that grow it."
This attitude is indicative of how Timor has started building its national food economy in just 15 years of existence. Taking small steps, locals are recognizing what grows in abundance on their land: root vegetables, aubergines, lettuce, passion fruit, and more. Rice isn't so profitable in Timor, but it's cheap to import from Vietnam (which is fortunate, as it's a staple for Timorese families).
It's a luxury for many to see food as more than a life-sustaining necessity, but as Timor generates more and more wealth for those who need it, food is starting to become a meaningful element of society that brings people together.
Peter Dougan, an Australian living in Timor-Leste, is aiming to make the most of what Timor grows best. Commonly known as "Farm Pro Pete" in the Dili circles, Peter and his fresh produce enterprise manager Inacia Immaculada were the pioneers behind farm-fresh boxes that get delivered from farmers straight to hotspots in Dili. But it's his Timorese staff who steer the ship of Farm Pro, from agricultural workers to business graduates. They hope to increase wealth for Timorese farmers and tap into Timor's existing strengths to maximize profit by working directly with a network of 50 farmers, many of them representing a family or group of families.
"We want to help farmers, and look at it in a way that can be profitable for everyone," Peter says. "With veg, you can plant bok choy today, harvest it in six weeks, and sell it. So the cash flow's fast in this market, whereas with others it can be a long process." Faster turnover is a better outcome for farmers with otherwise extremely low income, allowing them to profitably continue their work.
While a local food economy may be in the picture over the long term, Farm Pro's focus is predominantly on improving farmer wealth and much of its market is likely to be exports. This is partly because some things are difficult to grow, or have too high a production cost to be economical in the short term (such as soy beans). The focus is on the grower, their families, and their immediate livelihoods. "I'd love to have 1000 families in Ermera district, working with them to create a strong livelihood for their families," shares Peter.
Farm Pro is also looking to high-value markets in Dili to help generate wealth for those who need it and get the supply and demand cycle moving. Tapping into the same markets, a 'food studio' called Agora has recently opened for customers in Dili. Its goal is to get people to engage with the local food market starting with focusing on local education, support for Timorese farmers, events that bring people together over local food, sales of locally produced products, and a cafe that's already gained a reputation for delicious Timorese cuisine with a twist. The more demand there is for cafe-fresh food, the more Agora can purchase from local growers.
The Agora Food Studio lab is highly experimental and keeps its flavor possibilities broad and its waste minimal. But co-founder Mark Notaras names two key challenges in making local food matter: "A lot of people come to Timor and they bypass the local markets," he says. "There's a fear factor involved in getting local products fear around health and safety, knowing what things are, how to cook them, how to use them, not liking to bargain. Then, a couple years before they leave, they regret it. What we're trying to do is cut out those two years, and get people when they arrive, give them information so they can demand more local products for themselves, have the confidence to go the market and buy things, or at least ask for it in a restaurant or when they visit a Timorese family."
Demand for Timorese food would have a hugely positive effect on the Timorese economy. Agora's vision is a food system in Timor-Leste that people can be proud of. "Many local people aren't proud of their food at the moment; there's a poverty associated with it. We're trying to completely flip that paradigm and bring out nationalistic pride in people's food," says Mark.
These initiatives are stepping stones to an economy founded on community, pride, and shared values beginning to emerge in Timor. It's a luxury for many to see food as more than a life-sustaining necessity, but as Timor generates more and more wealth for those who need it, food is starting to become a meaningful element of society that brings people together. Mark sums it up: "You have to taste food, you have to smell food. It's not a transaction of eating and paying for it. It's about exchanging values."
Venidora Oliveira The Japanese government has committed to continue supporting training programs for the Falintil-Timor-Leste Defense Force (F-FDTL).
President of the National Defense Academy of Japan Ryosei Kokubun said bilateral relations between the two countries was excellent and was also helping to strengthen both nations in various aspects. "We continue to give support in training area especially for soldiers," Kokubun said.
He said many young Timorese had attended training at the Military Academy of Japan. "We are happy because young soldiers can come and learn in our academy and they really show their abilities [in the training]," he said.
He said human resources training was also important to ensure institutional development in the future.
Head of the F-FDTL, Major General Lere Anan Timor said that the support of the Japanese government was helping the F-FDTL develop as an institution.
He said the training provided by the Japanese government had helped Timorese soldiers increase their military skills and abilities, including in the engineering field.
Japanese defense personnel have also visited Timor-Leste to help provide technical assistance to F-FDTL officers. A Japanese military ship also recently visited Timor-Leste to provide medical training, he said.
National MP Cesar Valente said that as a developing country, Timor needed support from international partners. "I think they (Japan) are not only supporting the defense sector, they are also providing support in other areas and it is good and we appreciate it," he said.
Venidora Oliveira The Head of the Falintil-Timor-Leste Defense Force (F-FDTL), Major General Lere Anan Timor, has called on the government to establish a military court.
He said serving officers should not have to stand trial in a public court. "If he/she is a civilian then they can go to the public court, but if they are soldiers then they should be tried in a military court," said Maj. Gen. Lere.
He said the Dili Municipality Court (TMD) had recently issued a detention warrant for an officer, but the F-FDTL did not comply with the order because it does not want soldiers to be held in other places. "F-FDTL officers should only be detained by the Military Police," he said.
He hoped that the government through the Ministry of Defense would create an adequate system to establish a military court.
In response to the issue, Defense Minister Cirilio Cristovao said the government supported the establishment of a military court, but needed to create the right conditions first. "We need human resources because initially we only have 13 jurists," he said.
Therefore, he said the government planned to collaborate with the Judicial Training Center to allow 13 soldiers to receive law training. "Those soldiers who have a background in law can go for training in this area," he said.
Venidora Oliveira A local NGO is concerned that officers from the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) are misusing their weapons and not handing in their guns after they finish work as required.
Deputy Director of the Fundasaun Mahein Joao Almeida said the PNTL was not applying internal law article 4 and as a result members of the police force were carrying weapons outside working hours.
"There should be proper controls [and] if it is not working hours then guns should be handed in and kept in the cabinet (at the PNTL office)," he said. He said many accidents occurred because police failed to obey the rules on firearms.
"For example, in 2016 a man with a mental illness was shot dead by the police and a member of the Falintil-Timor-Leste Defense Force was shot in Aileu municipality," he said.
He said currently every police station in the municipalities and administrative posts had a cabinet for storing weapons and therefore the PNTL should ensure firearms are collected before officers leave at the end of their shift.
"I believe all of them attend training on how and when to use the gun, but sometimes it is being misused," he said.
Meanwhile, Member of Commission B (responsible for security, defense and foreign affairs) Cesar Valente said police continued to carry guns as they wished and without any controls.
"When PNTL (officers) go to parties they carry guns, when they go to funeral ceremonies they also carry guns that's what I said, it is still uncontrolled," he said.
To address the issue he said police officers should be required to leave their ID cards in the gun cabinet when they collect their weapon at the start of their shift and only be allowed to collect their ID once the firearms are returned.
He also called on the senior command to arrest officers who failed to hand in their weapons before they went home. "Every country does that and we need to do the same as it is a good [system]," he said.
In response to the issue, Operation Commander Superintendent Henrique da Costa said every police officer received training on how to handle firearms. "They know how to use the gun [and] they learn everything during the training," he said.
Regarding the misuse of weapons, he said it depended on the individual personality of officers and their level of understanding in implementing the knowledge that they learnt during training.
East Timor Prime Minister Dr Rui Araujo is visiting this week to mark what Prime Minister Bill English said was the "evolving relationship" between the two countries.
Araujo was a student at Otago University in the late 1990s and will revisit his old stamping ground as well as meeting with English.
His delegation will also meet business groups which the East Timor Government is hoping to learn from as it builds its own economy such as a farm and the Royal Albatross Centre in Otago an eco-tourism venture.
English said New Zealand and East Timor had a special bond after New Zealand took part in the peacekeeping mission as it went from Indonesian rule to independence. "The relationship with New Zealand is now evolving as Timor-Leste's economy and society grow and develop."
He expected talks to focus on building trade and development links between the two countries.
A statement from the East Timor Minister of State Agio Pereira said Araujo would visit until March 4 with his wife, two ministers and the Second Commander General of the National Police Force.
The delegation will visit the Police Training College, which a spokesman said was to honour the contribution the NZ Police had made to East Timor's transition to independence.
"Timor-Leste welcomes the opportunity to encourage business partnership and to meet with New Zealand experts in areas that are important to the economic diversification of Timor-Leste." He said the visit would build on the "history of friendship and co-operation" between the two countries.
More than 4000 New Zealand Defence Force and police personnel took part in an Australian-led peacekeeping force after Indonesian occupation of East Timor ended in 1999 until December 2012.
The country became independent in 2002 after decades of violence but peacekeeping forces staying on for a further decade to help ensure stability.
VNA Vietnam will create best possible conditions for enterprises from Timor Leste to operate in the country, affirmed Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
He made the statement when receiving newly appointed Timor Leste Ambassador to Vietnam Pascoela Barreto dos Santos in Hanoi on February 20. He said he expects the country to speed up the groundwork for its free trade agreement with Vietnam to soon come into effect.
Phuc also welcomed the ambassador to begin her duties in Vietnam, saying he believes she would contribute to boosting all-round bilateral cooperation, which currently falls short of potential.
For her part, the Timor Leste diplomat stressed the traditional relations between her country and Vietnam, as well as her good impression about a friendly and peaceful Vietnam.
She hailed Vietnamese investments in Timor Leste, particularly those made by the military-run telecommunication group Viettel.
She said she expects the Vietnamese Government will create more favourable conditions for businesses to invest in Timor Leste, especially in training and information technology. She pledged to spare no effort to enhance bilateral ties.
Paulina Quintao The Alola Foundation has called on women's weaving groups to preserve and maintain the originality of tais traditions as part of the country's identity.
Director of the Alola Foundation Alzira Reis said that some foreign companies were copying common tais patterns to respond to market needs.
"I call on the groups to continue making efforts to maintain what was given to us by our ancestors because it is our identity," she said at the opening of Alola's annual fair in Dili. "If Timorese people don't maintain it then the original product of Timor will become extinct."
She said tais production should not simply be about making money, but also promote Timorese culture, adding that this could help attract tourists to visit the different municipalities.
She said strengthening the economy was one of Alola's main priorities, especially in terms of building the capacity of weaving groups to improve product quality.
"Families' economic position is weak and may lead to malnutrition because they don't have money to buy nutritious food [and] children's education is also lacking, particularly access to schools," she said.
She said access to markets was another significant problem faced by many women's groups and that Alola's handicraft fair and its onsite store provided an opportunity for local groups to sell their products.
However, national MP Josefa Alvares Pereira Soares said the originality of local tais designs had already been lost in some municipalities as the process had been modernized and traditional materials were no longer used.
"The original tais was made with local cotton and dyed with bark and leaves to produce the colors," she said. "It is better quality than the tais made from imported cotton because the color fades."
She said many people now use imported materials because it was quick and easy to make one tais, while using local material can take two to three months and sometimes up to a year. She said Timor-Leste had yet to implement a proper law for the protection of local products like tais and other things.
David Hutt Politicians must sometime feel as though they can never win. For most of the last 15 years since Timor-Leste gained its independence, it has been marred by political division and partisanship, which exploded violently in 2006 when a dispute between regional officers in the military escalated into nationwide unrest. Today, the problem is the opposite: there is not enough division.
In 2015 the two largest political parties FRETILIN and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) reached what is widely considered to be a power-sharing agreement. CNRT leader Xanana Gusmao stepped down as prime minister in February that year and nominated as his successor the former health minister and FRETILIN lawmaker, Rui Maria de Araujo. Along with the backing of some smaller parties, this "unity government" now has a majority in the National Parliament, meaning Timor-Leste is without an effective opposition.
This consensus irked President Taur Matan Ruak, who decided last year to take it upon himself to be the one to hold the government to account (not strictly the purpose of his role). In February 2016, he stood before the country's parliamentarians and announced: "The state of Timor-Leste is far too centralized. It centralizes skill, power, and privileges. It excessively wastes resources, allowing thousands of Timorese to become second-class citizens."
Without an effective opposition, he said, the country's leaders were becoming more nepotistic and wasteful. Rauk is expected to step down as president before this year's general election, predicted to take place in July, and run for prime minister with the backing of a newly created political party, the People's Liberation Party (PLP).
Before the parliamentary elections, East Timorese vote to choose the next president. Both FRETILIN and the CNRT are looking likely to back the same candidate, Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, the president of FRETILIN, although the CNRT has yet to formally back him. There are few indications, however, that it will come up with its own candidate with only a month to go.
There were rumors late last year that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former president Jose Ramos-Horta would run again for the post this year. This now appears not to be the case. Ramos-Horta announced last month that he would not stand as a candidate, according to a Portuguese-language newspaper. Other presidential candidates include Antonio "Fatuk Mutin" Maher Lopes, who is reportedly running with the backing of the small Socialist Party of Timor, and Jose Antonio de Jesus das Neves, a former deputy commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, who is running as an independent.
So what does this mean? Well, should Lu Olo win the presidential race, and FRETILIN and the CNRT win a majority of the seats at the general election (which is likely to be the case, though they will be campaigning separately) then the FRETILIN-CNRT alliance will have complete control over the executive if the unity government continues post-election. Ruak and the PLP may well win some seats in parliament, they will have an uphill struggle to secure enough MPs to form a viable opposition.
Some contend that unity between FRETILIN and the CNRT is justifiable, since it means the scenes that unfolded in 2006 are unlikely to reoccur. And the country, which desperately needs to develop economically and socially, will no longer be plagued by infighting in the National Parliament over legislation.
There are also suggestions the public is happy with the arrangement. A poll conducted in November by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, found 74 percent of East Timorese thought the government was doing a good job, and 72 percent thought Timor-Leste will be "better off" in years to come.
In terms of infrastructure, a high number of respondents thought things had improved over the course of the year: 79 percent for healthcare, 78 percent for education, and 71 percent for electricity. Though only 29 percent saw improvements in the country's enfeebled road network, compared to 32 percent who thought it was getting worse.
"The optimistic outlook and enthusiasm for democracy displayed in this poll are highly encouraging," IRI Regional Director for Asia, Derek Luyten, said in a statement. "Ahead of the upcoming presidential election, it is crucial that Timorese political leaders seize upon this popular goodwill to address the issues of greatest concern to citizens, and take steps to ensure citizens are well-informed of how and when to vote."
Still, this is only half of the picture. A report published last month by the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization, found that the majority of residents in the capital, Dili, fear they could be evicted from their homes should a draft law currently being debated in parliament go through. If the law is passed, said the Asia Foundation's deputy country director in Timor-Leste, Todd Wassel, "we estimate a quarter of Dili would not be protected under the new law, so they wouldn't have any legal tenure security on the land where they're currently living." The report described land dispossession and conflict as the "dormant giants" affecting the country's stability.
Consensus, according to Ruak, only works in the interest of the ruling elite. According to the outgoing president, the government does "not use unanimity to solve [Timor-Leste's] issues; they use it for power and privilege. Brother Xanana takes care of Timor while Brother [Alkatiri] takes care of Oecussi." Oecussi is a small enclave in Indonesian West Timor, where a costly Special Social Market Economy Zone is currently in development. In 2013, Mari Alkatiri, the Secretary-General of FRETILIN, was chosen by Gusmao to preside over this economic zone.
Timor-Leste's problems, however, tend to fall into the categories of "what-ifs." What if violence breaks out again (unlikely) and what if its oil and gas reserves run out (incredibly likely), as I have considered previously?
Should the unity government survive after this year's elections, there is little to suggest it would turn away from the economic policy it has followed for a number of years: growing state budgets, a lethargic diversification of the economy, dependence on its sovereign wealth fund, and large infrastructure projects that (not always unfairly) have been dubbed vanity projects.
The division that has arisen in East Timorese politics, going into an election year, was summed up in a brief report by the Economist's Intelligence Unit, published January 16, which stated that the elections will pit "the supporters of the unity government against those who focus on corruption and claim that the government is wasting the country's petroleum wealth on trophy projects."
The question, therefore, is whether political peace and stability justify the costs that come with consensus. Indeed, whether they justify the possible weakening of the country's proud democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2015 Democracy Index ranked Timor-Leste 44th out of 167 places, the highest of all Southeast Asian countries. The 2016 edition of the same index bumped Timor-Leste up one place, still the highest in the region.
This is quite a feat for a nation that only gained its independence 15 years ago. But it is a feat that could be so easily undone should the government be bereft of an effective opposition for the next five years. Arguably, the government needs to be held accountable during the next few years more than any other time since 2002; the decisions it makes will be among the most important in the nation's short history.
Despite claims of progress and reform, East Timor's government is not putting the needs of its population first in planning for a future without oil propping up its economy. That decision blights the lives of many ordinary citizens.
Victoria Wah East Timor's economy has a positive future thanks to a low inflation environment and significant infrastructure development says a cheery but misleading press release from the government.
The International Monetary Fund says the country's economy is, "expanding at a satisfactory pace" and is, "likely to maintain the momentum into next year," the statement adds. Government officials also point to World Bank projections of rising growth of 5.0 and 5.5% in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Steady increases in real non-oil GDP in 2015 and 2016 are driving this optimism, and projections show this figure rising by 26.2% (from US$1,412 million in 2015 to US$1,782 million) in 2017. The government says this was due to more spending, particularly on infrastructure projects, and this will enable the private sector to flourish and create higher domestic revenues in the future. However, oil revenues currently provide 90% of government income so any decline in production or spending in this sector will have a significant impact.
The truth is that the Timorese government has cherry picked these reports as it goes into presidential elections in March and parliamentary elections in July. Since reaching its peak in 2012, Timor-Leste's oil and gas revenues have spiraled downwards, and reserves will drop to the bare minimum by 2022.
The World Bank says, "Development of the domestic economy will be essential. With no new oil fields under development and current wells depleting rapidly, Timor-Leste is expected to be a post-oil country in as little as five years' time." The IMF adds, "The medium-term outlook, however, depends critically on economic diversification."
East Timor's government acknowledges this, saying it, "will continue focusing on expanding and modernising our agriculture sector, building a thriving tourism sector, encouraging much higher levels of private sector activity and activating industries, including the growth and expansion of small and micro businesses."
But is the damage already done? The government's neglect of job creation in areas other than oil means youth unemployment is currently at 60% in a nation where over half of the population is under the age of 19. This means new efforts to open avenues into the other significant economic areas, coffee and forestry, are particularly important for the future.
The agriculture and fisheries sectors get US$3.2 million in the 2017 state budget, an increase from US$2.5 million in 2016. However, big petroleum projects still make up a significant chunk of spending. For example, the Tasi Mane project for infrastructure on the south coast receives US$49.3 million.
However, organisations like activist group La'o Hamtuk say these projects depend on the commercialisation of the disputed Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea. This means that unless there is a resolution to the spat with Australia over ownership the planned petroleum export pipeline will never be completed.
These big projects are also unsustainable and cannot solve structural poverty issues. Charlie Scheiner, an analyst at La'o Hamutuk, explains, "The new sources of income that East Timor desperately needs will not come from unsustainable extractive projects like Greater Sunrise, but from a productive, diverse economy based on East Timor's human and renewable resources."
To solve these problems, East Timor needs a more diversified economy. However, investments in mega petroleum projects are politically-motivated rather than for the public benefit, and Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo has not moved away from old policies and expenditures. The national unity government also poses a challenge as there are no strong and widely-supported opposition parties to fight for better state spending.
The People's Liberation Party, formed by President Taur Matan Ruak in 2015, holds a 20% share in political support and could yet change that narrative if its populist following builds. Ruak says the country is an autocracy that serves the wealthy elite and pours scorn on projects like plans to build an international airport to serve a population of 65,000 people. According to the President, "The state of Timor-Leste is far too centralised. It centralises skill, power and privileges. It excessively wastes resources, allowing thousands of Timorese to become second-class citizens."
Simply put, in the face of a fragile economy the government has not done enough. Instead, it focuses on profits rather than people, funds big-ticket projects with little social benefit and chases prestige achievements like ASEAN membership. This should be a huge concern for the Prime Minister, and countries in the region, as the threat of a failed state and possible refugee crisis grows. Despite their big claims of progress, Timor-Leste is actually spiralling downwards. Unless its leaders act swiftly, Southeast Asia's youngest nation will soon be in total jeopardy.
Timor-Leste has terminated one of its maritime treaties with Australia in a bid to find common ground over the disputed Greater Sunrise gas field. But will the move backfire? Rebecca Strating assesses the chances of a resolution to the long-running boundary disagreement.
In early January, Timor-Leste notified Australia that it wished to terminate the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS).
The CMATS was designed to establish a framework for the joint development of the contested Greater Sunrise gas field. Both states claim an interest in Greater Sunrise, at one time estimated to be worth US$40 billion.
The termination was followed two weeks later by the announcement that Timor-Leste would scrap two international legal proceedings against Australia.
These latest actions should be interpreted as part of a package of so-called 'confidence building measures' that have emerged from the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation (UNCC) meetings held in Singapore.
In April 2015, Timor-Leste initiated the UNCC proceedings under Annex V of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to assist in resolving the long-running dispute.
The CMATS placed a moratorium on permanent boundary maritime delimitation. But over recent years, Timor-Leste's government has reinvigorated its pursuit of permanent maritime boundaries, arguing that they are necessary for completing sovereignty.
The UNCC process obliged a reluctant Australia to participate in new boundary discussions.
When it comes the boundary, Australia favours principles of 'natural prolongation', which provides it seabed territory extending to the Timor Trough. In contrast, Timor-Leste favours a 'median' line, which is supported by contemporary international maritime law (see figure one below).
However, the key boundary for establishing possession of Greater Sunrise is the eastern lateral. As shown in figure one, the eastern lateral line that splits Greater Sunrise is drawn according to median line principles.
Timor-Leste, however, claims that the eastern lateral boundary should be located substantially to the east, allowing it to take possession of Greater Sunrise.
Both states have relevant arguments about the rightful ownership of Greater Sunrise, but UNCLOS provides little guidance on the placement of the eastern lateral beyond demands for equity.
In April 2013, Timor-Leste instituted arbitral proceedings against Australia under the Timor Sea Treaty. The aim was to invalidate the CMATS on the grounds that Australia's alleged spying in 2004 which saw an East Timor cabinet meeting over the negotiations bugged contravened the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties.
While the CMATS provided for its own cancellation if an agreement on Sunrise development could not be reached, Timor-Leste was concerned that unilaterally withdrawing from the CMATS would also terminate the Timor Sea Treaty, which currently governs the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JDPA).
As part of the UNCC process, Timor-Leste sought and received assurances that Australia would not seek to dissolve the Timor Sea Treaty if the CMATS was terminated. The decision to scrap the CMATS has effectively made the spying case redundant.
The second relevant proceeding related to the taxation of the petroleum exported from the JPDA and was also initiated under the Timor Sea Treaty.
Timor-Leste could have continued with its legal pursuit for a greater share of taxes. The decision to drop this case was likely a quid pro quo for Australia agreeing to retain the terms of the Timor Sea Treaty.
How the dispute will play out in the future will hinge upon whether Timor-Leste is prepared to negotiate a boundary that does not give it all of Greater Sunrise.
Timor-Leste's shift towards permanent maritime boundaries was motivated by its economic plan to build an export pipeline from Greater Sunrise to its south coast and establish an oil processing industry.
Between 2008 and 2010, the states attempted to agree upon the best ways to develop Greater Sunrise. The licensee consortium, headed by Australian company Woodside, deemed a floating LNG platform to be the best commercial option. Australia ultimately supported Woodside's decision.
Timor-Leste's government decided to renew permanent maritime boundaries arguments only after the pipeline talks reached a dead-end.
The subtle differences between the aims of securing permanent boundaries and gaining Greater Sunrise are crucial. A key question for negotiations is whether Timor-Leste would be satisfied with permanent maritime boundaries that would only give it part of Greater Sunrise, or whether it will 'go for broke' and refuse to settle for anything less than all (or most) of Greater Sunrise.
The UNCC process has limitations as a form of conflict resolution. First, the report will not be binding on either party. The UNCC is not a court or an arbitral tribunal: it was established under UNCLOS to assist states to reach an amicable settlement of relevant disputes.
Second, while Australia has an obligation to negotiate with Timor-Leste in 'good faith' on maritime boundaries under UNCC, and pursue negotiations as far as possible, it does not have an obligation to reach an agreement based on the report.
Terminating the CMATS has made it more difficult for Australia to simultaneously avoid boundary discussions while defending the primacy of the 'rules-based order' in maritime dispute resolution. Timor-Leste might be able to pressure Australia to agree to third party arbitration if negotiations fail.
But this is a significant gamble for Timor-Leste. Historically, Australia has preferred negotiating its maritime boundaries. More problematically is the time it takes to settle cases in international courts.
Oil dependent Timor-Leste has until around 2021 before the oil from the JDPA is depleted around four years from now. One legal expert suggests it could take seven years for a decision in the International Court of Justice. In the meantime, Timor-Leste's governments would have to rely upon the $16 billion sovereign wealth fund to furnish states budgets, 95 per cent of which comes from oil revenues. Current independent forecasts have the fund running out before 2027.
The other complication is the potential for Indonesia to become involved. Any court case on the eastern lateral boundary would inevitably require Indonesia's participation. Greater Sunrise may be closer to Timor-Leste than Australia but it is also closer to Indonesia. The prospect of Indonesia's involvement is not in the interests of either Australia or Timor-Leste.
The most pragmatic course of action is for Australia and Timor-Leste to compromise through bilateral negotiations. Australia is reluctant to move on the natural prolongation principle for fear that Indonesia would attempt to 'unscramble' its maritime boundaries. However, it also has an interest in Timor-Leste avoiding economic collapse. Any negotiated boundary settlement would likely be based on median line principles.
But crucially, Timor-Leste would need to compromise on the eastern lateral boundary. It seems highly unlikely that Australia would permit Timor-Leste to take all of Greater Sunrise, particularly given the line is already drawn to simplified equidistance.
In the end, the central issue is not whether boundaries should be delineated, but where. A resolution could still be a long way off.
Time to Draw the Line
Directed by Amanda King & Fabio Cavadini
2016, 58 minutes
Released February 20 on the Demand.Film platform
A new documentary examines the largely overlooked story of the dispute between Australia and its near neighbour the new state of East Timor.
The governments of East Timor and Australia have recently agreed to abandon a multi-billion dollar oil and gas treaty which strained relations following sensational allegations of spying on Australia's behalf. The recently completed documentary Time to Draw the Line reveals the story behind this news.
Featuring prominent Australians speaking out for East Timor, it is being released for cinema-on-demand screenings around the country this month.
Two months before East Timor's independence, Australia withdrew from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, for the delimitation of maritime boundaries. The subsequent 2006 treaty, which is now being scrapped, placed the issue of a permanent maritime boundary in the deep freeze for the next 50 years.
Australia has negotiated permanent maritime boundaries with every country in its region: New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia but not with East Timor. East Timor wants a boundary drawn halfway between the two countries in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This film is an emotional study of Australia's long connection to Timor-Leste, revealing a chequered relationship of friendship, courage, mistrust and betrayal.
Through a wealth of interviews and archival footage, the film unravels this contemporary David and Goliath story. The film engages and motivates Australians about the need to draw a just and permanent border in the Timor Sea.
The film will be available for screenings around the country to coincide with the United Nations World Day of Social Justice on February 20, via the Demand.Film platform. You can visit the site for full screening details.