After arriving for their first official visit in Timor-Leste, a team of United Nations experts charged with verifying next year’s elections in the strife-torn nation, said today that all Timorese are responsible for the success of the polls, and stressed their importance in building stability after deadly violence erupted earlier this year.
“It is a responsibility of the citizens; it is a responsibility of all the political parties and the civil society to be aware of the importance of this process, of the standards by which it must be conducted, and to conduct themselves in accordance with those standards, both national and international,” Reginald Austin, one of the experts, told a news conference in Dili.
“This is a very important election next year in the consolidated process of the building of democracy and stability in Timor-Leste. We are, as has been mentioned, an independent certification team; we are independent of all authorities and we are here in that sense in our personal expert capacity.” The UN shepherded the tiny country to independence from Indonesia in 2002.
The other electoral experts, also appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this month, are Lucinda Almeida and Michael Maley and together they make up the independent certification team, which is a new concept designed to ensure and help guarantee the credibility of the polls by making sure various standards are followed.
“Our task will be essentially to hold up, as it were, a mirror to the efforts of the authorities – both national and international – to ensure that this will be a credible and effective election. And that must be done by us, in reference to standards which are very clear,” Mr. Austin said.
He said these include the country’s Constitution, as well as a well-established set of international standards that have been developed over the past 20 years, adding that the team’s first visit coincides with a “vital stage” in the preparations for the polls, namely the laying down of electoral law.
Mr. Austin said more visits were planned and after each one the team would report to Mr. Annan, as well as to his Special Representative in the country and to the public.
Also speaking at today’s news conference was Acting Special Representative Finn Reske-Nielsen, who repeated calls for all political differences in the county to be “sorted out at the ballot box” and not through fighting.
The Security Council created an expanded UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in August to help restore order 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.
In a related development in New York, Mr. Annan has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Atul Khare of India as his Special Representative for Timor-Leste and Head of the UN mission, a spokesperson told reporters today. Mr. Khare succeeds Sukehiro Hasegawa of Japan who completed his assignment at the end of September.