Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


East Timor Fears Stray Sows Will Ruin Independence Day

Officials Order Roundup: Porkers And Piglets In Capital City A Traffic Hazard, Health Risk

Joanne Collins Reuters
Darren Whiteside, Reuters
April 16, 2002

Before becoming the world's newest nation next month, East Timor must rein in scores of pigs that roam the streets of Dili, the capital.

DILI, EAST TIMOR - With its first presidential vote over, East Timor has another pressing task before becoming the world's newest nation next month -- reining in scores of pigs roaming the dusty streets.

Their underbellies almost scraping the ground, the hulking greyish pigs are a curious sight around the seaside capital of Dili, but officials are not amused.

They say the porkers and their broods of piglets are a traffic hazard while their habits -- rooting around in drains, garbage and the odd garden -- are raising health concerns.

"It may not be easy but we want to control all the pigs by independence, now less than 40 days away," said Estanislau Aleixo da Silva, the Agriculture Minister, insisting all the pigs had owners, who would be ordered to round them up.

Asked how many pigs were wandering around Dili, Mr. Da Silva said he wasn't sure. They are hard to avoid at times, choosing to cross roads when they please, bringing traffic to a halt.

East Timor will formally declare independence on May 20, after centuries of foreign occupation, and preparations are in overdrive for the thousands of foreign dignitaries, celebrities and media expected to attend.

And no one wants a stray sow spoiling the occasion.

In the last major milestone before full nationhood, the former Portuguese colony held its first presidential elections on Sunday. Independence hero Xanana Gusmao is widely tipped to crush his only rival Francisco Xavier do Amaral when official results are announced, probably tomorrow.

Impoverished East Timor has long wanted independence, and its 740,000 people -- still traumatized by a bloody decision to break from Indonesian rule in 1999 -- will never have seen celebrations of the like slated for May.

East Timor is overwhelmingly Christian while Indonesia is mostly Muslim.

Mr. Da Silva said the fledgling government had yet to draft a regulation to control the errant pigs, but livestock officers would ask owners to collect and confine their animals.

Most are a mix of wild and domesticated beasts.

"These pigs have been an issue for a very long time, during Portuguese and Indonesian times, but we are definitely going to do something to stop it," Mr. Da Silva said.

"Initially I thought they didn't have owners, but they do. And people know exactly which ones belong to them," he added, without explaining just how.

Dogs, goats and even wild horses also roam Dili, but Mr. Da Silva said they posed smaller problems.

Getting ready to celebrate the birth of a nation has been a mammoth task for East Timor, where the capital's airport accommodates only two Boeing 747s along with a limited number of light aircraft. Planes also can only land in daylight because there is no radar.

"We will even have to tell the people who grow crops around the tarmac that they will not be able to tend them during the celebration," said Caroline O'Brien, an independence day organizer.

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Revised Thursday, April 18, 2002

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture