With over 50,000 internally displaced people still living in makeshift camps in and around Timor-Leste’s capital, continued low level fighting in the streets and elections due next year, United Nations officials today said that restoring public security was an absolute necessity.
“The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) believes very firmly that impunity must end, that crimes and acts of violence should not go unchecked,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Acting Special Representative Finn Reske-Nielsen told a news conference in Dili, capital of the small South East Asian nation that was torn by fighting earlier this year.
“The need to restore public security in Timor-Leste is evident to all,” he added. “This is necessary so that people feel safe to return to their homes. It is necessary for rule of law and to prevent impunity. It is also necessary so that elections next year will be safe and fair.”
The Security Council created the expanded UNMIT in August to help restore order in the country that it shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago, after a crisis attributed to differences between eastern and western regions erupted in April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces.
Ensuing violence claimed at least 37 lives and drove 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.
“While the United Nations police has an interim responsibility for public security throughout Timor-Leste, the goal is to actually ensure that this country will possess an effective and trustworthy (national) police service in the future,” UNMIT Acting Police Commissioner Antero Lopes told the news conference.
The national police force disintegrated in May and its members are currently undergoing a rigorous screening process. Once cleared, they will be reactivated to work in tandem with UN Police (UNPol) officers. When the whole screening process is completed, the combined total of UNPol and national police will be 5,000, a ratio of five officers to every 1,000 citizens, which Mr. Lopes said is one of the highest in the world.
“In a matter of weeks, we should have the full establishment throughout greater Dili and we should start expanding to the districts throughout Timor-Leste,” he added, noting that the international Joint Task Force made of troops from Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand has been providing back up support to UNPol when necessary.
Colonel Malcolm Rerden from the Joint Task Force, referring to concerns over weapons handed out to civilians during the crisis, said an audit by the international police and military had confirmed the location and security of nearly 94 per cent of the missing arms. Of nearly 3,000 weapons, less than 230 remain unaccounted for, posing no significant threat, he said.
UNMIT’s mandate calls for a robust police presence consisting of up to 1,608 officers, 34 military liaison officers and a significant civilian staff.
Addressing Timor-Leste’s parliament yesterday, Mr. Reske-Nielsen called for speedy approval of vital electoral legislation. Supporting the poll is part of UNMIT’s mandate. Although it will not run the elections – that will be the job of the Timorese government – the UN will provide technical help and policy advice. More than 400 UN staff will be fielded across the country to help.