Timor-Leste: UN officials meet rebel soldiers’ leaders in effort to resolve crisis

6 July 2006
Special Envoy Ian Martin (R) in Timor-Leste

Continuing their efforts to calm tensions in Timor-Leste, the top two United Nations officials there today met with a group of rebel soldiers, who had surrendered their automatic weapons, and urged them to press their case non-violently.

Continuing their efforts to calm tensions in Timor-Leste, the top two United Nations officials there today met with a group of rebel soldiers, who had surrendered their automatic weapons, and urged them to press their case non-violently.

The group headed by rebel leader Major Augusto Tara, told Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Sukehiro Hasegawa that they planned a peaceful demonstration on Friday demanding that parliament be dissolved.

Mr. Annan’s Special Envoy Ian Martin participated in the meeting at the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) and briefed the group on plans for a possible new UN mission in the small South-East Asian nation that the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.

The crisis, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, erupted in late April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces. Ensuing violence has claimed at least 37 lives and driven 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes to seek shelter in makeshift campsites and with host families. Demonstrations have continued over the past two weeks.

“You have already achieved a lot peacefully; if you continue to express yourselves peacefully it will be effective,” Mr. Hasegawa said, noting that the group had demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who subsequently did step down.

Earlier today, Mr. Hasegawa took part in a meeting chaired by coordinating minister Jose Ramos-Horta with governmental, police, military, and non-governmental organization planners on ways to ensure the safe return of internally displaced people to their homes in a lasting secure environment.

Mr. Martin is looking into the requirements for a strengthened UN presence. He was Mr. Annan’s Special Representative when the world body first set up the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 after the country voted for independence from Indonesia, which had taken it over at the end of Portugal’s colonial rule in 1974.

This robust structure was kept until independence in 2002, when UNTAET was replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). This in turn was succeeded by the current, even smaller UNOTIL, which has a mandate through 20 August.

The Security Council has asked Mr. Annan to report back on an expanded UN presence by early August. At present, a joint Task Force made up of Australian, New Zealand, Portuguese and Malaysian forces invited in by the Government is helping to restore calm.

 

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