The Security Council today endorsed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendations that the UN continue its role in East Timor after the territory's independence next year, stressing that a premature withdrawal of the international presence could have a destabilizing effect in a number of crucial areas.
In a presidential statement read out in a formal meeting by Brian Cowan, the Foreign Minister of Ireland, which holds the presidency of the 15-member body for the month of October, the Council agreed with Mr. Annan's assessment that the UN should remain engaged in East Timor to protect the major achievements so far of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), to build on those accomplishments and to help the East Timorese government in ensuring security and stability.
The Council concurred that a new UN mission should be based on the premise that operational responsibilities should be gradually handed over to East Timorese authorities as soon as it was feasible, and supported a continuing process of assessment and downsizing of the UN presence over a period of two years.
The Council also backed the recommendation by East Timor's Constituent Assembly that independence be declared on 20 May 2002.
Before the Council began its discussion, it held a private teleconference this morning with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is in Geneva, on the situation in East Timor as well as his proposals for a mission to succeed UNTAET.
At the outset of the open debate, UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello briefed the Council on the Secretary-General's plan for a UN presence in East Timor post-independence, pointing out that the proposed date was exactly 200 days away.
The successor mission to UNTAET, Mr. Vieira de Mello said, would focus on the security of the new nation. Upon independence, internal security would continue to be the primary responsibility of the international civilian police, with increasing involvement from the national police service. Meanwhile, the military component should number some 5,000 personnel, down 44 per cent from current strength, in order to ensure effective border security pending the development of East Timor's own defence force.
Mr. Vieira de Mello also warned that as Timorese took greater control over their governance, any precipitous reduction in government services should be avoided, and a minimum degree of support was needed to ensure that the new government did not falter. Despite progress toward independence, he stressed, the "job we have all set out to do is not yet done."
Today's meeting also featured the Chief Minister of the Second Transitional Government of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, and officials from the World Bank and UN Development Programme (UNDP). Speakers from more than 50 delegations took the floor during the discussion to express their support for UNTAET and the UN's efforts in East Timor.