Timor-Leste: resolve of a fragile nation

From Global development | The Guardian Mon Nov 26 2012, 00:01:19

UN peacekeepers will withdraw from Timor-Leste later in 2012 and women are playing a lead role in the country after independence - as well as changing attitudes to domestic abuse

It's not quite light when Rosa dos Santos wakes in the village of Estada, three hours inland from Timor-Leste's capital, Dili. Bending to sweep the red dust from the doorway of her home walled with palm leaves, she straps her baby granddaughter to her chest and sets off for the river. By the time she returns with the day's water, the smell of wood smoke and the chatter of children signal the start of a new day. Anyone fit enough to farm is already off digging sweet potatoes from the surrounding mountainsides, while the old, the sick and the young are left at home.

Dos Santos, 63, grew up at the tail end of nearly 500 years of oppressive Portuguese rule. She brought up her children under the bloody Indonesian occupation of 1975‑1999 - a period that the country's Independent Truth Commission says gave rise to 102,800 conflict-related deaths. And she welcomed her grandchildren into the era of UN-policed independence that followed.

But while each of these regimes brought massive political change to the tiny Pacific nation, nothing, according to Dos Santos, has really improved in day-to-day life. "We're not scared the soldiers will come and burn down our houses anymore," she says, referring to the violence and brutality of the Indonesian administration. "But we face the same hardships we always have."

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