Increase in UN presence in Timor-Leste seen as likely

7 June 2006

A senior United Nations envoy ended a nine-day visit to Timor-Leste today after the recent outbreak of violence there, heralding a possibly beefed up presence by the world body in the small nation that it shepherded to independence four years ago.

“I think just about everybody I have talked to believes that there will now be a larger role for the United Nations than in the immediate past and certainly than what was being envisaged in the Security Council discussions before this crisis emerged,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy Ian Martin told a news conference on leaving for UN Headquarters in New York.

The UN presence in Timor-Leste has been drawn down since the original UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET) was set up in 1999 to usher the South-East Asian country to independence in 2002. This was then replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which in turn was succeeded by the current residual UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).

Last week Mr. Annan said last week that he would now have to assess whether UN forces had been drawn down too quickly in the country, which has been torn by violence since the dismissal in April of nearly 600 soldiers, a third of the total armed forces.

“The message which I have brought from the Secretary-General is that this is not a time for despair,” Mr. Martin told reporters. “It is a time for people to act together. It’s a time for the leaders of Timor-Leste to act together, and it’s a time for the international community to act together and the United Nations is certainly going to be with Timor-Leste through this time of crisis and beyond the immediate need to restore security.”

The envoy, who conferred with President Xanana Gusmão and Mr. Alkatiri as well as with other leaders and representatives of civil society during his visit, called on all sides to cooperate fully with Australian and others forces invited in by the Government to help restore security, “particularly in the crucial task of the recovery of weapons.”

On the humanitarian front, UN agencies continued aiding more than 100,000 people, about a tenth of the total population, displaced by the violence and now sheltering in makeshift camps scattered throughout the capital, Dili, and near-by suburbs. Their numbers have steadily swelled to 62,000 compared with 35,000 last week. A further 35,000 are estimated to have fled their homes in the countryside.