UN, East Timorese officials refute allegations of bias at UN mission
Responding to recent media reports criticizing UNTAET following the resignation of its chief of staff, Nagalingam Parameswaran, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that Mr. Annan had "full confidence" in the mission's leadership.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the New Straits Times of Malaysia, Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the UN Department of Public Information, rejected "implicit suggestions of racism" contained in the newspaper's account of the reasons for Mr. Parameswaran's departure. Mr. Tharoor pointed out that more than one-fifth of UNTAET's international staff came from Asia and that prior to Mr. Parameswaran's resignation, Asians held two of the mission's top four posts.
For his part, José Ramos-Horta, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the East Timor Transitional Government, acknowledged Mr. Parameswaran's hard work in East Timor, but stressed that the description of UNTAET as "a white mission" was unwarranted. In a statement released in Dili, Mr. Ramos-Horta added that many people had devoted "many months, many long hours, to East Timor. Mr. Parameswaran is one, but there many others of many nationalities - Europeans, whites and non-whites - so I do not think it is fair to call this a white-dominated mission."
In other news, a battalion of UN peacekeepers from Jordan today bid farewell to the East Timor enclave of Oecussi, located in Indonesian-controlled West Timor, as UNTAET continued to reduce the number of international troops in the territory.
In a change of command ceremony attended by UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello and a host of government and military officials, the Jordanian peacekeepers formally turned over responsibility for the enclave to a battalion from the Republic of Korea reassigned from the eastern sector of the island, where the bulk of UNTAET's military downsizing is occurring.
The first battalion of the newly formed East Timor Defence Force is expected to become fully operational by the middle of this year and will assume responsibility for security there.
The Jordanian contingent is scheduled to have fully withdrawn from Oecussi by the end of the month. Their departure follows that of Philippine and Kenyan troops from other districts late last year. UNTAET's ongoing downsizing will reduce the current authorized level of 8,000 international troops to around 5,000 by East Timor's independence on 20 May.