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December 2, 2008, Ambassador Hans G. Klemm

(Click to enlarge) Ambassador Hans Klemm discusses the prospects for stability in Timor-Leste.

Can We Achieve Stability in Timor-Leste?

(Washington DC) December 2 – Despite a history of violence and instability, the small island nation of Timor-Leste has experienced a promising ten months of stability. In an East-West Center in Washington event, U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste Hans G. Klemm described the current state of Timor-Leste’s national development and discussed the future prospects of this poorest nation in Asia. He explained that though there are many challenges to overcome, the recent period of peace provides an opportunity for the nation to concentrate on its long-term development.

In February of 2008, a history of political upheaval and violence in Timor-Leste was capped by the attempted assassination of the country’s president and prime minister. Unlike past conflicts, the February emergency passed with little instability and loss of life thanks to quick and decisive action by the government. Since effectively dealing with this emergency, the government has gained new confidence in its ability to confront Timor-Leste’s most pressing problems.

Timor-Leste will need all of that confidence as it addresses the myriad challenges facing the island nation on its path to development and stability. Ambassador Klemm detailed the obstacles, noting that fifty percent of the population still lives below the poverty line and that unemployment is extremely high. Access to water, electricity, and other basics remains quite low, and dependence on wood for heating and cooking has left Timor-Leste with the highest levels of deforestation in Asia. Further, nearly one half of the adult population has never attended school. Ambassador Klemm explained that the general population continues to experience a level of poverty that frustrates their expectations for the future.

In the face of these challenges, what can Timor-Leste do to improve its country and achieve stability? Ambassador Klemm noted that one of the country’s top priorities ought to be infrastructure development, an activity which not only improves the capacity of Timor-Leste as a country but also provides much needed jobs for its rapidly growing population. That population would benefit from investment in human capital growth through improvements in local education as well as efforts to provide access to international education. A final focus of the Timorese government, argued Ambassador Klemm, should be the improvement of the military and police forces, organizations that are outdated and disorganized. These three activities would greatly improve the prospects for economic and political stability in the country.

Though the history of instability and the scale of challenges cannot be ignored, Ambassador Klemm expressed some confidence about the future of Timor-Leste, explaining that the peace of the last ten months coupled with growing government confidence promises great returns if the situation can continue.

Ambassador Hans Klemm began serving as ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste, in June 2007. Previously, he served as minister counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, where he was responsible for all aspects of bilateral and multilateral economic policy with Japan. Ambassador Klemm has also worked as director of the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources of the Department of State in Washington, D.C. and as the director of the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Textile Trade Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Overseas, Mr. Klemm has served at U.S. embassies in Bonn, Seoul, and Port of Spain. Mr. Klemm joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State in September 1981 and was promoted into the Senior Foreign Service in January 2001

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