Press Releases

    29 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 26 April (UN Headquarters) -- The following statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan was delivered today at the Security Council meeting on the situation in East Timor:

    We are approaching a historic moment for East Timor, and indeed for the United Nations. It is with considerable emotion that I join you in welcoming the elected leaders of the people of East Timor -- President-elect Xanana Gusmão and Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri –- who will participate in this debate, and to whom, in less than a month’s time, the United Nations will joyfully hand over full responsibility for the destiny of their country.

    Since the tragic events of September 1999, which followed the democratic decision of the East Timorese people to seek independence, the United Nations has been working hard to build a sustainable national administration, in close partnership with Member States and, most importantly, with the East Timorese themselves.

    It may have seemed improbable to some, at that time, that East Timor would become a viable State within two and a half years. But I believe history is about to confound the sceptics. Credit for this should go first and foremost to the East Timorese people, who have shown great courage and perseverance in rebuilding their country.

    They have risen to every challenge that has confronted them, and have unfailingly demonstrated their commitment to democracy. There are still daunting challenges ahead, but with a determined and dedicated leadership in place, and a strong Constitutional foundation, I believe they can now face the future with confidence.

    We, the international community, can also take pride in the contribution we have made. After the swift restoration of order by the international force, authorized by this Council, the United Nations itself was given a mandate of unprecedented scope under resolution 1272, adopted on 25 October 1999.

    Since then, peace has been secured, and basic governmental structures and laws have been put in place. A sense of normality has returned.

    Children are attending schools, roads are being built, buildings reconstructed, health systems established -- and new businesses are opening up every day. The citizens of East Timor have turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote in the Constituent Assembly and Presidential elections. Most encouragingly, in the last few months increasing numbers of refugees have returned.

    But all this is only the start. The Government of East Timor faces enormous tasks, before and above all after 20 May. It must not be left alone. The international community must ensure that the investment it has made does not go to waste. It will still have a crucial role to play in helping the Timorese to consolidate their new institutions. That is why I very much hope the Council will approve the detailed proposals for a follow-on peacekeeping presence contained in my report.

    In the initial stages this mission, called UNMISET, will provide support in three areas that are critical for the stability and viability of the new State: public administration, law and order, and external security. That support will be reduced gradually over two years, as the role of the United Nations becomes one of providing normal development assistance.

    I am confident that the Timorese will continue to develop their own sources of revenue and to manage their resources prudently, in keeping with their track record thus far. But East Timor will continue to need financial and budgetary assistance.

    Moreover, sustainable growth will require investment from the private sector, both domestic and foreign. I urge all Member States to do their utmost to encourage it.

    Good relations with its nearest neighbours will be essential to East Timor’s future stability. This will include close cooperation with Indonesia, in order to ensure timely agreement on the delimitation of the border, on the situation of the remaining refugees in West Timor, and on cooperation in prosecuting those accused of the serious crimes committed in 1999.

    Confidence is vital, and the best way to provide it is to continue the strong partnerships that have brought East Timor this far. I trust this will continue throughout the mandate of UNMISET, and beyond.

    I hope to be present in person for the independence ceremonies on 19-20 May, and I must say I look forward to that historic night with some excitement. It will mark the climax of the East Timorese people’s historic struggle to assert their right of self-determination, which I have no doubt will be celebrated in song and story for centuries to come.

    As Secretary-General, I am proud of the part the United Nations has played in that struggle, and am especially pleased that we are now in its last phase. I pledge that this will mark not an end, but a new beginning, and that the United Nations stands ready to play its full part alongside the independent nation of East Timor.

    Thank you very much.

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