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Security critical for this year’s Timor-Leste polls, more police needed: UN envoy

Security critical for this year’s Timor-Leste polls, more police needed: UN envoy

Special Representative Atul Khare briefs Council
Highlighting the “fragile” security situation in Timor-Leste, the top United Nations envoy to the impoverished nation today reiterated Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for more international police during this year’s elections, the first to be held there since it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.

“Security is clearly seen by all stakeholders as a critical element for the success of the electoral process. The situation is demonstrating some signs of improvement but remains fragile,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste Atul Khare told a Security Council meeting held to discuss Mr. Ban’s latest report on the tiny country.

The first round of the presidential election is scheduled for 9 April and the date for the parliamentary election will be announced afterwards, Mr. Khare said, highlighting the need for long-term international assistance to the country as well as the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the mandate of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) be extended for another year. It currently expires on 25 February.

“Development and strengthening of democratic institutions is a long-drawn out process and requires continued support. The people of Timor-Leste, who are desirous of peace and stability in a climate of democratic, responsive and accountable governance, need the support of the international community,” said Mr. Khare in urging support for adding 12 more months to UNMIT’s mandate.

The Security Council created UNMIT in August to help restore order after deadly fighting, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, broke out in April and May last year and led to the deaths of at least 37 people and forced about 155,000 people – or 15 per cent of the population – to flee their homes.

As of 26 January, UNMIT consisted of a civilian component made up of some 150 international staff members, over 380 national staff and more than 1,300 police officers, as well as 33 military liaison and staff officers.

UN Police (UNPOL) are implementing screening and mentoring programmes for the National Police of Timor-Leste under a deal signed last December giving the UN full responsibility for policing. Mr. Khare said that the police screening and retraining was progressing but emphasized the need for more UN officers in the form of a Formed Police Unit, which is more heavily armed than a normal unit.

“I believe that the deployment of an additional Formed Police Unit, as recommended by the Secretary-General…for the pre- and immediate post-electoral period, is essential,” he said. “The additional unit would strengthen UNMIT’s capacity to address the security challenges and thereby contribute to the holding of peaceful elections.”

After Mr. Khare opened today’s discussions, which involved representatives from some two dozen countries, Timorese Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta supported the Secretary-General’s call for a one-year extension in UNMIT’s mandate.

Mr. Ban’s latest report says that while the mission has made “substantial progress” towards improving law enforcement and in other areas, “much remains to be done.”

“The overall situation in Timor-Leste has improved, although the security situation in the country remains volatile and the political climate fluid,” he writes. “The judicial sector, a key component of the rule of law, remains weak in a number of areas, and UNMIT, together with many partners in the wider international community, stands ready to assist in strengthening it.”

Low-level violence, much of it involving gangs in the capital Dili, has continued and last month more than 100 UNPOL officers, backed by troops from the International Security Forces (ISF), arrested around 50 gang members from two neighbourhoods in the capital, and confiscated homemade firearms, machetes, Molotov cocktails and other weapons.