Timor lures tourists with historic independence sites

Thu Oct 29, 2009 9:23pm EDT
 
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By Tito Belo and Sunanda Creagh

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor's struggle against Indonesian occupation may soon become a tidy earner, with the government considering plans to promote key sites of the 25-year fight for independence as part of a tourism campaign.

A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia, but a secessionist movement soon emerged, led by Xanana Gusmao, who is now the country's prime minister, and Jose Ramos-Horta, its president.

Gusmao spent much of occupation either in jail or on the run, often hiding with guerrilla fighters in East Timor's mountainous terrain, while Ramos-Horta lived in exile, campaigning for independence.

An estimated 180,000 died during the occupation, including 1,000 the United Nations says were killed during the bloody 1999 vote for independence.

But tourists regard East Timor's turbulent past as a draw card, said Japanese tour guide, Noriko Inaba, as she escorted a Japanese tour group to Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery -- where more than 200 East Timorese were killed in 1991 when Indonesian troops fired on mourners, an event known as the Dili massacre.

"It's an historical place because of the tragedy," she told Reuters. "This is one of the things we came to see here."

The cemetery's caretaker, Joao da Costa, said tourists often visit the site and take photos.

"If more people came from overseas, maybe we could develop faster," he said.   Continued...

 
<p>Local tourists laze on a beach in Dili, East Timor September 11, 2009. East Timor's struggle against Indonesian occupation may soon become a tidy earner, with the government considering plans to promote key sites of the 25-year fight for independence as part of a tourism campaign. Picture taken September 11, 2009. REUTERS/Lirio Da Fonseca</p>