Continuing his efforts to help restore calm to Timor-Leste, the top United Nations envoy there today conferred with UN-recruited prosecutors on the criminal investigation into the fatal shootings in April and May, which shook the small South-East Asian nation that the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.
“As the Head of the United Nations here, I felt very strongly that that incident has to be investigated immediately,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Sukehiro Hasegawa told reporters after the meeting, referring to the most deadly attack, on 25 May, when 10 unarmed National Police officers were killed and 20 other people wounded, including two UN police advisors.
A UN team is scheduled to visit the country shortly to assess a possibly robust increase in the residual UN presence still remaining there following a Security Council meeting yesterday on the violence which erupted after the dismissal of nearly 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces in April.
“It is obvious that the UN will have to go back to Timor-Leste in a much larger form than we are at the moment,” Mr. Annan said after the meeting.
At present an international force including Australia, New Zealand Malaysia and Portugal, which ceded colonial control of Timor-Leste in 1974, is 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, which took over after Portugal’s withdrawal.
Once independence was attained in 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, even smaller UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).
Mr. Hasegawa said his meeting with the international prosecutors came in response to a request from Timor-Leste’s Foreign Ministry on enabling the Prosecutor General’s office to investigate the incidents, which also included the shooting deaths of five demonstrators in late April.
At least 37 people were killed in the wave of violence, according to UNOTIL’s Human Rights Unit. More than 130,000 people fled their homes, over a tenth of the total population, and are now being cared for in makeshift camps with the help of UN agencies.
The prosecutors, who work in the Timorese Prosecutor General’s office, are recruited by UNOTIL and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).