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|Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan
At United Nations Headquarters, on 3 September
NEW YORK, 3 September (UN Headquarters)
The Spokesman [Fred Eckhard]: The Secretary-General just made his statement to the Security Council. He will have no opening statement for you and will go immediately to your questions. The first will be from the representative of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA).
The Secretary-General: Good evening. I guess you all heard my statement, so I won't need opening remarks. I will take your questions straight away.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, congratulations, and welcome on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. Now that we've reached this point, do you see any further hurdles to -— if not a peaceful transition, at least a definitive transition to independence? And if such a hurdle exists, what is it likely to be?
The Secretary-General: I think there are several phases we need to go through. The first important and critical phase is the organization of the ballot, and we are grateful that it did go quite well. We did have violence; we lost some people, East Timorese and United Nations staff. But we are grateful that the people were not intimidated and they did come out and vote in their numbers. The next phase is the period between now and November -— end of October/November -— when the new Indonesian parliament approves the results, or confirms the results and agrees to the transition arrangements, agrees to move on to the transition arrangements. Thereafter we need to get into the transition arrangements. In the meantime we'll be working very closely with the Indonesian authorities and the Portuguese Government, who were signatories to the Agreement, to work out the next steps and to work out our cooperation. I've got assurances from the Indonesian Government that they will work very closely and effectively with us. What is important is that in the next couple of months we need to maintain security with law and order in the region and ensure that things do not get out of hand.
Question (spoke in French): Certain heads of the East Timorese resistance think that the situation in East Timor will become worse, that there will be increasing violence. What do you say to these heads of resistance?
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): Clearly it is difficult to say. Even on 30 August people were saying that we could not have elections because there would be violence. It took place very well. I'm in contact with the Indonesian Government, and they have said that they will do what they can. They have just sent military battalions there, and I hope they will further increase the military when necessary. So, they have made some commitments, and I hope they will respect them. Until now they have done their best.
Question: What's your general assessment of the security situation, and how many more victims, including United Nations personnel, will we allow before we take a decision to send something stronger than Indonesian troops to take care of security?
The Secretary-General: Let me first say that the situation in Indonesia is very complex. When we view the security situation and the vote in East Timor, we only look at our own immediate interests, the results of the elections and all that. We should not forget that Indonesia is a country in transition. It's a country that has gone through elections; it's a country that is managing a change in itself; it's a country that's in the process of determining what the next Government, the next President will be. We also have to accept that this process is not acceptable to everybody in Indonesia and that the process has to be managed very effectively by the Government. I think that in assessing the situation we have to be realistic and understand the conditions.
The other thing I would want to say is that as part of the Agreement, the Indonesian Government undertook to ensure law and order. We've had some difficulties, but I think, given the results and the way the elections went, they did try; they really made an effort. I am in touch with them, and all of us, the whole international community, is asking them to honour that engagement. As we move forward, other arrangements and other, supplementary efforts may become necessary. We are talking to the Indonesians; we are doing our own thinking and our own planning, but I don't think that at this stage today I will say "Send in UN troops".
Question: The same question, security measures. We remember very well what happened in the Congo in the 1960s, and the scenario appears to be the same. What do you intend to do in case things do not work out?
The Secretary-General: I don't think I'm in a position to discuss contingencies and confidential planning. We are planning. We've been planning and thinking for a long time, and we've been working with Portugal and with the Indonesian Government.
Question: Are you able to say whether or not you're considering the idea of a "coalition of the willing", of certain regional countries like Australia and New Zealand that have expressed an interest in forming an immediate peacekeeping presence?
The Secretary-General: I think I've made it clear that I'm not going to discuss contingencies tonight.
Question: I was pre-empted by the Secretary-General's reply.
Question: On the matter of whether Indonesia will have to give their approval for a force: I understand that Portugal believes that they do not, since no country but Australia has recognized them; and the United Nations position is that they would, since they administer the Territory. Have you discussed with Indonesia the possibility of this, and the question of whether they have to give their assent?
Question: How would you reassure the people of East Timor who are not privy to the diplomatic process that you're describing that their needs, their security, will be taken care of in this transition?
The Secretary-General: I think we have demonstrated our determination to work with the Indonesian Government and get them to honour the commitments they have made in the Agreement and to the international community, and we are not the only ones. The major capitals around the world are also working with them and with us on that. As I said, I sent Ambassador Marker back to Jakarta on Thursday to have discussions with General Wiranto and Foreign Minister Alatas. Following that discussion, two more battalions were sent in. I think they are prepared to reinforce as need be. Now the results are out, and I think the vote is clear as to what the people of East Timor want. They have spoken, and I hope that with this clear message the pro-integrationists will understand that we are at the end of the road and there is no need for any more senseless violence. But I think what is important is that the Government -— that is, the military, the police and the leadership -— will have to be firm and vigilant; they will have to arrest those culprits and punish them and set a tone, send out a message that we are serious, we will deal with criminal elements and with violent elements. I do expect the Indonesian Government to take a firm hand.
Question: Is there any evidence this week that there are elements of the Indonesian military that won't accept the result of today's ballot ? Given the likelihood of violence in the coming days and weeks, what measurement does the United Nations use to determine at what stage an international force is necessary?
The Secretary-General: First of all, let me say that this is a supposition. There were people who thought that the ballot would not take place because of the elements we are talking about here today. The ballot did take place, with very little or minimum violence on the day in question, on 30 August. The Government of Indonesia was able to ensure there was law and order on that day. We are asking them to ensure that the same atmosphere, the same calm is sustained over the next couple of months. Obviously, there will be problems, and here and there will be hiccups, but I believe that with determination and planning they have the capacity to do it.
Question: You talked about the violence of the military groups as being senseless. Obviously, some of it is, but there has been speculation in the last few days that some of these groups are even trying to repartition Timor by actually indulging in violence in their particular strongholds near the border with the more westerly part of Timor. What attitude would the United Nations take to any attempt to overturn this result by force or by that kind of mechanism?
The Secretary-General: I do not believe that the results can be overturned by force. I think the result is clear and overwhelming, we would expect the authorities to work with us in rooting out any elements that would want to take over any cities or enclaves in the region, and I think they have the capacity to do it. Down the line, as we move into the transition arrangements, where there will be a larger international presence, that presence will have to make sure this does not happen.
Question: Do you think it would improve the security situation in East Timor if the United States and the United Kingdom were to stop selling ammunition and arms to Indonesia?
The Secretary-General: I think the absence of arms in such situations is always helpful. If there are no weapons and no bullets, people are not going to use them to kill each other. So in any of the situations we talk about, we are trying to take guns off the streets, because that is the dangerous thing about guns. I have given you a general answer, because I am not sure what amount of weapons both countries are selling to Indonesia; I do not have the facts. But in any event, my own attitude is that the fewer guns we have around, the better. If we didn't have guns in those situations, I don't think we'd be in the situation we're in.
Question: Looking into the future -— might difficulties like those being experienced here encourage Member Governments to come up with a rapid reaction force in advance, built in to any United Nations election exercise where all parties are not equally eager to have it go peacefully? Three miles offshore, or something; to be there, a presence to start out as part out of institutional elections.
The Secretary-General: I wish it were that easy to convince the Governments to give you troops for some of these operations. Even in some situations when we've been given a clear mandate with need for a peacekeeping force we've not been able to get the forces from them. But I hope -— in this particular situation I did indicate there are three phases, and I think there's no doubt that in the third phase, when we get into the transition, a United Nations presence, including troops, would be necessary. But that is in the third phase. Between now and the third phase, would troops be necessary? Would there be a situation, a force majeure, that would require an international military presence? I don't know. But in the third phase there will be a larger United Nations presence; there will be -— I am certain it will include a military presence -— in trying to work with the East Timorese through the transition period.
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