Civil disturbances in East Timor, the forthcoming elections and the resignation of Xanana Gusmão as president of the National Council dominated discussions in the Security Council today as members heard a briefing by a top United Nations peacekeeping official.
Describing East Timor’s internal security situation as the territory prepares for independence, Assistant Secretary-General Hedi Annabi called attention to the recent disruption of a rally held by the Popular Council for the Defence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, as well as a riot in Baucau District that led to the burning of some 40 houses.
Regarding security on the border with West Timor, Mr. Annabi said multiple incidents had occurred in the past seven days, despite the generally quiet situation over the past few weeks. Smuggling across the borders was also continuing, he said, highlighting an incident on 3 April that had resulted in the shooting death of a young woman, and a clash today during which Fijian UN peacekeepers had come under fire.
Mr. Annabi also said that the new East Timor Defence Force had begun training this week at a centre established by Australia with the assistance of Portuguese instructors. A special programme supported by the World Bank will help former combatants not included in the new force to return to civilian life, he added.
Turning to the question of refugees, the UN official said there had been an increase in the number of East Timorese returning home from West Timor. To date, more than 180,000 refugees had returned, although an estimated 100,000 were still in West Timor. Those remaining reportedly continued to face intimidation and lacked access to information about the real conditions inside East Timor, he said, adding that a proposed security assessment mission for West Timor was still under discussion.
In other news, the UN peacekeeping operation in East Timor today announced plans to conduct a special training next month for 100 potential East Timorese women candidates to the Constituent Assembly.
The training, to be carried out by the Mission’s Gender Affairs Unit in conjunction with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), follows an earlier announcement by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) of a series of measures aimed at encouraging female participation in the 30 August elections. The plan was made public by the Mission’s head, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in connection with the signing of the regulation on elections and registration of political parties on 16 March.