|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/SC/1230|
|Release Date: 26 May 2000|
|Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Briefs
Security Council on East Timor
NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Security Council met this afternoon to hear an open briefing on the situation in East Timor.
Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the overall security situation in East Timor had remained stable since his last briefing on 27 April. Militia activity on the border with West Timor had declined, he noted. The deployment of an additional Indonesian battalion to the border, and the implementation of the 11 April Memorandum of Understanding for Tactical Coordination had proved beneficial. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) had now initiated a reduction by some 500 troops in the eastern sector, which was the calmest area.
Crime was still high, however, and considerable effort was required to contain the readiness of many East Timorese to resort to violence. Regarding political developments, he said the UNTAET had continued its efforts to normalize relations between Indonesia and East Timor. A new round of talks had begun last Monday and had finished today.
East Timor had suffered severe flooding, particularly in Suai, Viqueque and Los Palos, he said. However, the situation was much worse in West Timor, where tens of thousands had been displaced, and 126 were confirmed dead. About half the casualties had been East Timorese living in low-lying refugee camps. The UNTAET had provided helicopter support for reconnaissance and the delivery of relief supplies, at the request of the Indonesian authorities.
Council members expressed concern about the impact of the floods on remaining refugees in West Timor. The representative of Namibia said it was unfortunate that at such a crucial juncture nature should contribute to death and large-scale displacements. Citing UNTAET assistance to the rescue operations by providing helicopters, he said he trusted enough resources would be available to salvage the situation.
The representative of the United Kingdom said it was particularly troubling that many of those killed or displaced were refugees from the East. The Council should carefully consider what it could do for those people who had suffered “the double whammy” of displacement and natural disaster.
The representative of the Netherlands said the Council should be cautious in drawing the conclusion that the military component of UNTAET should be reduced.
The Council had not had a specific briefing on the military aspect of UNTAET and yet it had been informed of the decision to reduce the numbers. The Council should be given the opportunity to consider the whole military situation before any decisions were taken, he stressed.
For the representative of China, the most pressing problem in East Timor was the high level of unemployment and its negative impact on the security situation. The United Nations could not remain indifferent to the disappointment and frustration of the East Timorese people, he said, urging a greater effort by UNTAET to create employment opportunities.
Ukraine’s representative said he had been pleased to learn that the total number of returnees to East Timor had risen to more than 160,000 by the end of the past month. He was concerned, however, that repatriation from West Timor had decreased over the past few weeks, presumably because of harassment of returnees.
Statements were also made this afternoon by the representatives of the United States, France, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Argentina, Malaysia, Jamaica, Tunisia and Mali.
The meeting was called to order at 3:45 p.m. and adjourned at 5:55 p.m.
Council Work Programme
The Security Council met this afternoon to hear a briefing on the situation in East Timor.
HEDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that since his last briefing on 27 April the work of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) had been marked by progress in institution- and capacity-building, and the delivery of government services. Regarding political developments, he said UNTAET had continued its efforts to normalize relations between Indonesia and East Timor. A new round of talks had begun last Monday and had finished today. The agenda had included mechanisms to resolve claims against assets and liabilities of either side and the transfer of civil and administrative archives back to East Timor.
There had been an increase in political activity in East Timor, he said. The Front for the Liberation of East Timor (FRETILIN), the long-standing pro-independence party, had held a series of regional conferences, leading up to a national party congress from 15 to 20 May. The main theme of the congress had been the need to replace the political infighting of the past with democratic practices and pluralism.
The overall security situation had remained stable, he said. Militia activity on the border with West Timor had declined. The deployment of an additional Indonesian battalion to the border, and the implementation of the 11 April Memorandum of Understanding for Tactical Coordination had proved beneficial. The UNTAET had now initiated a reduction by some 500 troops in the eastern sector, which was the calmest area. That would be achieved by October through the scheduled troop rotations.
Law and order remained a concern, he said. Crime was still high, and considerable effort was required to contain the readiness of many East Timorese to resort to violence. However, there had only been one large incident –- on 30 April, a fight between youth groups at a Dili sports demonstration had spilled over to the nearby central market and continued sporadically over a number of hours, resulting in four injuries and 18 arrests. Following that incident, UNTAET’s police had been authorized to carry side arms.
He said the UNTAET’s investigations into the 1999 violence continued. In Oecussi, 20 bodies had been exhumed of persons killed in the Passabe massacre of 8 September 1999. The UNTAET continued to monitor the current human rights situation in East Timor, with particular emphasis on episodes of intimidation and harassment against ethnic and religious minorities.
Regarding economic matters, he said the number of private businesses registered had risen from 1,200 last month to over 2,000, creating new employment opportunities in the private sector. Private sector loans were also being made to prospective small businesses through a World Bank funded project.
On governance and administration, he said the Central Fiscal Authority had become fully operational with the appointment of the Head and Deputy Head on 17 May. Customs and immigrations operations had begun on the western border with the opening of a border post at Batugade. To date, $1,059,000 had been collected in customs and sales tax.
He said only some 1,000 refugees had returned since last month, bringing the total to a little over 161,000. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had estimated that 90,000 remained, principally in West Timor. It should be noted that the estimate of the Indonesian authorities was higher, around 125,000. The census mentioned the previous month had been delayed and had only just begun. The militias active in the camps had continued their campaign of misinformation about the conditions in East Timor.
As previously mentioned, East Timor had suffered severe flooding, particularly in Suai, Viqueque and Los Palos, he said. However, the situation was much worse in West Timor, where tens of thousands had been displaced, and 126 were confirmed dead. About half the casualties had been East Timorese living in low-lying refugee camps. The UNTAET had provided helicopter support for reconnaissance and the delivery of relief supplies, at the request of the Indonesian authorities.
The UNTAET had continued to make progress in the implementation of its mandate, he said. The progress might not be as quick as could be hoped for, but it was steady and its pace would increase.
STEWART ELDON (United Kingdom) said that the briefing had been extremely useful and comprehensive. It had demonstrated the scale of difficulties UNTAET had to face in preparing a territory for independence with very little to start from. Noting that the rate of return for refugees was now down to about 1,000 persons, he said that it was time to clarify how many refugees remained and to register them expeditiously. It was important to understand the reasons why they had not returned. The register would also be a useful tool to help those still in the camps to return.
Expressing particular concern about the effects of recent floods, he said the United Kingdom was grateful that UNTAET was able to provide assistance. It was particularly troubling that many of those killed or displaced were refugees from the East. The Council should carefully consider what it could do for those people who had suffered “a double whammy” of displacement and now natural disaster.
On the matter of resources, he said UNTAET would only be effective if properly funded. UNTAET was inhibited by a lack of funds. Although $20 million had been pledged, spending was so far limited to only a small proportion. He expressed the hope that the UNTAET and the Secretariat could work together to identify barriers to disbursements. It would also be helpful to know if anything more could be done to ensure that UNTAET had the specialists it needed. He hoped there would be some progress made on funding and capacity before next month’s donor conference in Lisbon.
As to the longer term vision of United Nations engagement in East Timor, he said there was a need to maintain a careful balance between not pushing too hard and not pushing quite enough. As East Timor moved towards independence, it should have the capacity to cope with that independence. There was a need to develop time-lines, so that the mission could complete its role in the right time and in the right way.
NANCY SODERBERG (United States) said the discussion today was in sharp contrast to what had been discussed only a few months ago. The events in East Timor were shifting -- to the more normal tasks of how to rebuild a country, to get investigators in and how to integrate the economy into the normal trading system. That was a tribute to the East Timorese and to the United Nations working hand in hand with them.
It had to be said that the Indonesian military had made efforts to end cooperation with the militias, she said. She remained concerned that the militias must be broken up and that the problem of the refugees must be corrected. Any backsliding would be of concern. The situation must be monitored. There were still militias on the ground.
She said the civilian police in East Timor needed to have the means to carry out their responsibilities. In some areas, the civilian police were armed. That policy should be considered throughout East Timor. A consistent policy was important. Her Government was following with interest the effort of UNTAET to establish a functioning judiciary, she added. The people in East Timor were now actively discussing how to develop their own country. It was up to the international community to stay engaged.
PASCAL TEIXEIRA DA SILVA (France) said he was aware of the magnitude and difficulties of the tasks of UNTAET, as well as its progress, which might seem a bit slow. Now that the tragic events in East Timor were no longer making “page one”, international attention had declined. Concerning the security situation, he asked what was the division of labour between the police and UNTAET. Where did one need to draw a line as to what fell within the competence of the police and the competence of UNTAET? There should be clear criteria for such tasks and clarification would be welcome. Noting the UNTAET decision to reduce the force by 500 men, he asked if there were other plans to further reduce the military elements, or was it deemed too soon. He also requested more information on the training of local police, since the goal was to have them take over.
ANDRAS VAMOS-GOLDMAN (Canada) said he was encouraged by the decision by Indonesia to establish a transition period for the return of refugees. Their voluntary return was necessary for their own security and the stability of East and West Timor. He was, however, concerned about the increasingly slow pace of the return of refugees, as well as such other unresolved matters as the question of pensions owed.
He welcomed the establishment by Indonesia of a panel to investigate human rights violations. It was important that the panel’s findings be investigated and prosecuted and those responsible held accountable. He noted the progress by UNTAET, despite all the difficulties on the ground. Canada supported the close consultations with the East Timorese in the development and reconstruction process.
ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said it was crucial to smoothly settle the refugees, in order to instil confidence in them and also positively contribute to the question of national reconciliation. Everything should be done to encourage the refugees to return and that should be done on the basis of real progress on the ground in areas of concern to them.
In the context of encouraging disparate militia elements to disband, he welcomed the initiative taken by the Government of Indonesia to ask those soldiers to either join its resettlement programmes or resign and return to East Timor. Making the choice very clear to those trouble-mongers was a positive attitude, which he believed would facilitate the United Nations task considerably.
He noted with appreciation the signs of effective administration that had been apparent in recent days. The opening of the civil service campus and the commencement of training courses for the East Timorese civil service was a very important development and he commended the efforts of UNTAET in that regard.
The recent extensive flooding in West Timor had presented UNTAET with a difficult situation, he said. The Council had decided that UNTAET should respond to the request from the Government of Indonesia for assistance. The humanitarian situation had demanded such a decision and he fully endorsed it. He noted that it showed how the fate of the population on either side of the border was interlinked. For UNTAET, it would be one more step towards closer cooperation with the Government of Indonesia.
ANDREI GRANOVSKY (Russian Federation) said open briefings such as the one being held today were a good format. His delegation’s assessment of the issue under discussion coincided with the analysis of previous speakers. He had been following with concern the situation of the floods affecting the country. He expressed his condolences for the victims and noted with satisfaction the efforts of UNTAET.
OSVALDO NARCISCO MARSICO (Argentina) said that since the beginning of March, there had been no incidents along the frontier and UNTAET had succeed in establishing good relations with the Indonesian military. He expressed the hope that Indonesian cooperation would help solve the problem with refugees in West Timor. He also expressed the hope that assistance from UNTAET and the humanitarian agencies would help alleviate the suffering of those affected by the flooding. He also hoped that the misinformation and miscommunication in the camps would be cleared up as soon as possible and, therefore, make it easier for the refugees to return. What was the expected future for Falintil, in the new independent State of East Timor? he asked.
MOHAMMAD KAMAL YAN YAHAYA (Malaysia) said the mission continued to be difficult and he recognized the daunting task being faced by UNTAET, which was doing excellent work. He welcomed the reopening of the East Timor postal service and looked forward to further steps to create a sense of ownership among the people.
He also welcomed UNTAET’s response to the recent flooding. He underscored the goodwill displayed by Indonesia’s Government to alleviate the suffering of the East Timorese. Despite the ongoing difficulties, he was gratified to know that the overall situation was stable. He remained concerned at the continued reports of violence, in particular reports of religious violence and harassment of religious minorities. The East Timorese authorities should urge reconciliation and tolerance. Further, he was encouraged by UNTAET’s policy of zero tolerance for weapons or objects that could be used as weapons. He welcomed efforts to improve basic services and stressed the need for the Council to continue to regularly follow the developments in the territory.
A. PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) expressed concern that thousands of refugees remained in West Timor. He asked Mr. Annabi how the process of registration of refugees in the camps would be carried out. Would it simply be a matter of counting people or would the refugees be asked where they were from and whether they wanted to return and, if so, why they had not returned? When would the registration process be completed and the results available? He also asked if Mr. Annabi could elaborate on the efforts made to convince the refugees it was safe to return, and what had been done to ensure that it was indeed safe to return.
Concerning continued activities by the militia, he said he was convinced that the central authorities in Jakarta were trying to rein in the militia. However, while he appreciated the Government’s difficulties, it nevertheless had to step up its efforts. He noted that the Security Council resolution had placed the responsibility on Indonesia for the safe return of refugees in West Timor. The Council should be cautious in drawing the conclusion that the military component of UNTAET be downsized. The Council should receive a separate briefing to decide on the necessary military strength of UNTAET. It was a very important matter for the Netherlands. The Council had had no review of the military aspect, yet it had been informed of the decision to reduce the numbers. The Council should be given the opportunity to consider the whole military situation through a briefing, in either an open meeting or consultations of the whole.
The Netherlands considered it appropriate and consistent with the mandate if the United Nations assisted in the establishment of a military force for self-defence purposes, he said. While he was aware of the sensitivities that should be taken into account, he thought it better to acknowledge that an independent East Timor would eventually establish a military force and it would be better if that force could be founded with respect for democratic standards, as well as strict observance of human rights. He asked Mr. Annabi if the East Timorese were in agreement with the benchmarks for independence.
M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) noted that in the last few months UNTAET had redoubled its efforts to help ensure that people were involved in rebuilding. Ensuring the people’s involvement was the only effective path. She welcomed the opening of the civil service campus and would follow progress made in training in basic administration. Care had to be taken to ensure that the structures established would not be too costly to operate. East Timor was, after all, a small territory.
The law and order situation in the territory had improved, but the top priority should be given to the quick and full deployment of the mission’s civilian police component. She expressed her condolences to the people who had been affected by the recent flooding and commended UNTAET for its speedy response.
The number of returned refugees to East Timor seemed to demonstrate a growing level of confidence, but it was important that the conditions for peaceful and safe return be established if those in the camps were to return. The employment situation in the territory continued to be of concern to her delegation, she added.
She continued to believe that those responsible for gross human rights violations must be brought to justice. The UNTAET must continue its investigative work and the monitoring of violations. She hoped that the upcoming Lisbon donor’s conference would attract the requisite funds.
MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said the inauguration of the Civil Service Academy was a very positive achievement, since the Academy would play a vital role in the future human resource development of East Timor. He also hailed the establishment of the first television broadcast as a positive development, as well as the opening of the first land border crossing between East Timor and Indonesia. The important role of the media during peacekeeping operations could not be overemphasized.
The safe return of refugees from West to East Timor remained a major outstanding matter, he continued. He welcomed the recent reports by UNHCR that the repatriation rate had picked up again. It was encouraging that a prominent militia leader had also been urging refugees to return to East Timor. Referring to the heavy flooding in West Timor, he said it was unfortunate that nature at such a crucial juncture should contribute to death and large-scale displacement. Citing UNTAET assistance to the rescue operations by providing helicopters, he said he trusted enough resources would be available to salvage the situation.
SAID BEN MUSTAPHA (Tunisia) said that despite the efforts made by the Indonesian authorities to solve the problem regarding refugees, the issue remained a concern. The recent floods, which had had hundreds of victims, demonstrated the need for accelerating the refugees’ reintegration.
He welcomed the efforts at establishing good coordination between UNTAET and Indonesia and the specialized agencies and supported the calming of the security situation. The efforts of UNTAET in the area of creating jobs should be emphasized and a general policy in that sector should be laid down. He believed that the economic aspect was one of the major priorities and that peace must be established for the long term.
VOLODYMYR KROKHMAL (Ukraine) said his delegation had heard the reports of loss of human life due to the floods with the deepest regret and he welcomed the support of UNTAET in the emergency. Regarding refugees, he was pleased to hear that the total number of returnees to East Timor was more than 160,000 by the end of the past month. He was concerned that repatriation from West Timor had decreased over the past few weeks, presumably because of the harassment of returnees.
Economic and social conditions were areas where more focused action was warranted, he said. In that regard, he had been encouraged to hear that the Secretariat was working with the World Bank and other financial institutions. He would like to hear about the grant agreement recently concluded with the World Bank to help with the country’s health situation.
He said progress in East Timor would be limited until the local population was involved in governance. Ukraine appreciated the work that UNTAET did in the development of the private sector and welcomed the inauguration of the civil service campus. He also stressed the important role of the civilian police. He asked the Secretariat to further comment on developments regarding training of an indigenous police force.
CHEICKNA KEITA (Mali) said the evidence indicated that UNTAET was moving in the right path and there was gradual progress in East Timor. In terms of economic matters, he welcomed the participation of the 2,000 companies. Their presence would favour a decline in crime and unemployment. He also supported the training of local police to maintain law and order. He asked Mr. Annabi for more information on what the Timorese thought about the political parties there and how they felt about independence in general.
WANG YINFAN (China) said the most pressing problem in East Timor was the high level of unemployment. It was having a negative impact on security. There must be a greater effort by UNTAET to create employment opportunities. The United Nations could not remain indifferent to the disappointment and frustration of the East Timorese people.
Mr. ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said there had been many questions raised and he would try to answer as best he could. He said he had been asked about the status of the United Nations trust fund. Contributions amounted to $28.6 million, and a total of $14.1 million out of that had been either spent or committed to various priority activities. Regarding the situation of the World Bank trust fund, he said that fund had received a total of $38.4 million out of the $147 million that had been pledged at the end of last year in Tokyo. The level of expenditures remained low -- about $2 million currently. But, now that the Bank had completed the procedures regarding the initiation of some of the projects, it was expected that the disbursement would increase fairly quickly.
He understood that projects to be funded under the first installment were underway and that the first emergency road contracts would be mobilized in June. He hoped that the Lisbon donor meeting would provide a good opportunity to take stock of where things stood with implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. He had done his best at this end to cut through red tape for disbursement of the funds.
Turning to the issue of benchmarks towards independence and the longer-term vision of UNTAET, he said consultations on implementation of benchmarks touched on important issues for the East Timorese. Their views must be respected. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, might be able to come to New York following the donor conference next month and he would have more to say at that time. The issues must be decided along with the East Timorese, he stressed.
The security situation and level of criminality were related to the economic situation and social dislocation, he said. On the division of labour between the military component of UNTAET and the civilian police component, it was the same as in other theatres of United Nations operations. The police were in charge of law and order and the military component provided the security environment in which the police component could carry out its functions. The military unit could also provide back-up to the police in difficult situations.
On the reduction of the military component, he said UNTAET was proposing to carry out an initial reduction of some 500 troops from the eastern section of the territory. That fit in a wider programme that would foresee, if the situation remained stable, further reductions by next April. There could be a total reduction of 50 per cent of the troops by April in the eastern sector. The UNTAET would continue to review the situation and propose reductions in other sectors. He did not believe in micro-management –- the force should have a degree of autonomy to make the decision.
On efforts to train the local police force, he said it was one of two main tasks of UNTAET’s police component. The East Timor police college had opened at the end of March, and the first group of trainees was scheduled to graduate on 2 June, so the process was underway. A total of 3,000 East Timorese graduates was foreseen by the end of next year.
On the present state of payment of assessed contributions to the UNTAET budget, he referred members to a monthly publication issued by the United Nations Controller detailing the status of each peacekeeping account. Delays in payment, of course, made it difficult to reimburse troop contributors’ in a timely manner. That had been a problem over the past years.
The East Timorese had indicated their wish, once independence had been attained, to have a security force, he said. Xanana Gusmao had written to the Secretary-General in that regard and the Secretary-General had assured him that the United Nations would respect the decision of the East Timorese. While an independent East Timor would have the right to establish a force, prior to its establishment it would be important that the framework be set out.
Regarding the registration of refugees, he said the purpose of the exercise was to have a reliable view of the exact number of refugees and the composition of the families, as well as their occupation and place of origin in East Timor. The UNHCR would try to learn the wishes of the East Timorese regarding the question of repatriation, but the situation in the camps made that difficult. Efforts to ensure the safe return of refugees were undertaken locally and by and large the process had proceeded without too many difficulties.
Mr. VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) said appreciated the information provided on the reduction of UNTAET’s military component, but continued to insist on a proper discussion on the military situation –- either in a formal meeting or in consultations of the whole -- before any envisaged decisions became final.
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