Biofuel plans may leave East Timor hungry

The West Australian

July 30, 2008

Dawn Gibson in Dili

More than half the arable farmland in East Timor could be used by international companies for biofuel production under a Government plan which poses a huge threat to the new country’s ability to feed its people.

Former ruling party Fretilin fears a contract between the coalition Government and Indonesian-linked company GT Leste Biotech to use 100,000ha of farmland for sugar cane was the first step in a ill-considered strategy to take advantage of the massive global thirst for alternative fuel sources.

The opposition party understood that further contracts were being considered to plant another 200,000ha with biofuel crops, possibly palm oil, which would mean that 60 per cent of East Timor’s farmland would be tied up in the ventures.

The land could be leased for as long as 20 to 50 years.

Fretilin MP Jose Teixeira, the minister for development under the former government, said the coalition’s policy was unacceptable in a country with huge numbers of poor farmers.

The introduction of biotech crops would make it impossible for many to continue to grow food for their families.

“We are concerned because there has been no transparent national debate on this issue,” he said.

Fretilin claimed the coalition’s lack of transparency was reflected in its budget being debated in Parliament which sought to provide scant funding for long-term infrastructure needs while granting all MPs expensive new cars.

Mr Teixeira was also scathing of what he saw as reluctance among world leaders to push the Indonesian Government to prosecute the perpetrators of the human rights atrocities committed against East Timorese civilians in the wake of the 1999 vote for independence.

“Why should little old Timor-Leste carry the burden diplomatically of dealing with a big neighbour like Indonesia which we have to maintain a good relationship with?” he said.

Fellow Fretilin MP Estanislau Da Silva said the party had long supported the inquiry into the atrocities recently wrapped up by the Indonesia-Timor Leste Joint Commission for Truth and Friendship. However, he said there was still a need for reconciliation and justice.

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Joyo Indonesia News Service

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