Secretary-General Kofi Annan was briefed by his Special Envoy for Timor-Leste today as a stronger United Nations presence there looked increasingly likely following the recent outbreak of violence in the small nation that the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.
At the same time, UN agencies appealed urgently for $7.4 million to help the more than 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), a tenth of the total population, uprooted by the deadly violence that erupted after the dismissal in April of nearly 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces.
Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in the country, Sukehiro Hasegawa, today continued his shuttle diplomacy seeking to forge a dialogue for peace, travelling to the eastern District of Baucau to meet with military and civil leaders after visits earlier this week to western regions for talks with leaders of armed groups demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
Mr. Annan’s briefing from Ian Martin, a seasoned Timor hand, will enable the Secretary-General to have “a good idea of what is actually going on the ground,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York, noting that it was up to the Security Council to take a decision on next steps.
“We will obviously make some recommendations to the Council and those will be discussed during the week, but it’s fairly clear the UN will have to reconsider and probably increase its posture in Timor as we move ahead,” he said.
At present an international force including Australia, Malaysia and Portugal, which ceded colonial control of Timor-Leste in 1974, are helping to restore order at the Government’s request. The UN presence has been drawn down since the original UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET) was set up in 1999 after the country voted for independence from Indonesia.
Once independence was attained 2002, that mission was 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).
Mr. Martin, who was Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in East Timor, as the country was then called, in 1999, said on leaving Dili, the capital, at the end of a nine-day visit on Wednesday that virtually everybody he had spoken to believed there would now be a larger UN role.
On the humanitarian front the UN refugee agency today appealed for $4.8 million to help tens of thousands of IDPs.
“Security is still a major concern for the more than 65,000 or so displaced in Dili,” High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. “We are now in the process of trying to ease congestion in the 40 or so makeshift encampments around Dili and improve living conditions.”
Another 35,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in the countryside. Mr. Redmond said that so far funds had been slow in arriving, with only $286,000 from Australia, $185,000 from private donors in Australia, and 50,000 euros from the Government of Germany.
“We hope with the launch of the UN Flash Appeal shortly that donors will give generously,” he added, noting that at the moment UNHCR is providing emergency shelter, basic items and protection for up to 30,000 IDPs.
For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is helping to safeguard the health of an estimated 3,000 pregnant women left homeless by strife. With as many as five deliveries on any given day, ensuring timely transport of women in labour to the national hospital remains an urgent concern.
UNFPA is supporting the Ministry of Health in establishing a place within the hospital to provide care for pregnant women and their families during the last two weeks of pregnancy and a week after delivery. The UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are providing the needed logistical and nutritional support.
“Timor-Leste has one of the highest birth rates in the world and faces many challenges in maternal and infant health in normal times,” UNFPA country representative Hernando Agudelo said. “During a crisis, we need to be even more vigilant to ensure that pregnant women receive adequate obstetric services.”