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SUVA, Fiji (January 13, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Pacific Islands experience and expertise are helping the new journalists’ association being formed in independent East Timor.

Nina Ratulele, who heads the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) secretariat in Suva, addressed the inaugural congress of the Timor Lorosa'e Journalists Association.

She was invited to Dili to speak on how PINA is set up, how it operates, and its successful work promoting media training, media freedom and professional cooperation.

Ratulele also was asked to be adviser to the new association's strategy and program committee.

She presented their new association with an engraved traditional Fijian club from PINA president William Parkinson, vice-president Oseah Philemon, and PINA executives and members.

Ratulele is PINA administrator, editor of PINA Nius Online and a member of the governing council of IFEX, the worldwide network of media freedom and freedom of expression organisations.

Her travel to East Timor was sponsored by UNESCO and the East Timorese journalists hosted her in Dili. She also received help in Dili from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces soldiers serving with the United Nations forces in East Timor.

The Timor Lorosa'e Journalists Association declared their desire to build an independent and free press for their new nation out of the ashes of destruction left behind by the Indonesian occupation.

More than 150 delegates attended the congress, representing 14 new media organisations formed in the United Nations-administered territory since a 1999 referendum voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

Delegates declared their intention to speak on behalf of journalists in East Timor and to campaign for free press provisions during the constitutional assembly to draft a charter for East Timor.

Fears were expressed that investigative reports on local issues could cause tension in a community not used to the give and take of a free press. The association, it is hoped, will offer protection for the local media.

"This is an opportunity for all of us to build a strong, professional base," said Virgilio da Silva Guterres, one of the organizers and an editor with Lalenok, a local magazine. "The free press will be one of the foundations of our nation."

The congress was broadcast live on Radio Ramkabian, a new Dili community radio station, which timed its debut to coincide with the congress.

There are four radio stations in the territory, two daily newspapers and eight other publications, all of which have begun operating since late 1999.

The pro-Indonesia militia violence following the referendum destroyed almost all media infrastructure in East Timor.

The territory is slated for full independence late this year or in early 2002.

Congress participants also dedicated a new road in Dili, Press Freedom Avenue (Avenida da Liberdade de Imprensa), along the highway where Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes was killed by Indonesian soldiers in 1999.

They also traveled to the rural town of Balibo to inaugurate a memorial to five foreign journalists killed by Indonesian troops in October 1975 while covering the invasion of East Timor. The country then was a Portuguese colony.

Hamish McDonald, author of the book, "Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra," which chronicles the assassination of the journalists in Balibo, reminded delegates of the sacrifices that journalists have made to cover the territory since 1975.

McDonald urged Timorese journalists not to wait passively for outside agencies to investigate atrocities during the Indonesian occupation but to carry out investigations themselves. "There are many thousands of witnesses out in your villages waiting to be interviewed."

The congress was organized locally and supported by UNESCO, the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor, the World Press Freedom Committee, The Freedom Forum, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Jakarta) and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance of Australia.

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