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UN envoy optimistic on Timor-Leste while warning against early UN withdrawal

UN envoy optimistic on Timor-Leste while warning against early UN withdrawal

Special Representative Atul Khare briefs correspondents
A day after briefing the Security Council on the need for continued international support for Timor-Leste, the United Nations envoy to the country today said he was cautiously optimistic about its future ahead of this year’s landmark elections, but he also highlighted the deadly violence in 2006 as a warning against any early withdrawal of UN assistance.

“I return back to Timor-Leste with a feeling…of cautious optimism. I’m optimistic because I do believe that the United Nations and the Government of Timor-Leste, the leaders of Timor-Leste and the people of Timor-Leste, are committed to working together,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Atul Khare, who heads the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), told a press conference.

He said his caution derived from experience showing “that a premature and abrupt withdrawal of international support, or even a very serious downsizing until the conditions are really favourable to it, is not in the benefits of either the United Nations, the international community and certainly not beneficial to the nation at large, which was demonstrated by…[the events of] April, May 2006.”

The Security Council created UNMIT in August to help restore order after the deadly fighting, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, broke out and caused the deaths of at least 37 people and forced about 155,000 others – or 15 per cent of the population – to flee their homes. UNMIT’s current mandate expires on 25 February but Mr. Khare again stressed the importance of extending this.

“I do believe that there was a considerable degree of opinion [in the Council] in favour of a 12 month extension of the mandate, particularly as expressed by Prime Minister Dr. José Ramos-Horta himself, who said that the extension of mandate by 12 months would send a clear signal of continual engagement of the international community.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his last report on Timor-Leste first recommended the mission extension, and also called for more international police in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election, scheduled for 9 April, and the later parliamentary election. Speaking to the 15-member Council on Monday, and repeating his position to reporters today, Mr. Khare said the idea was to deploy another more heavily armed Formed Police Unit.

“An additional Formed Police Unit means 140 people who work together as three operational platoons of around 25 each and an administrative platoon of another 25. He said there was “a considerable degree of support in the Council” for this proposal.

Mr. Khare said the UN was continuing to support the authorities in helping strengthen the judiciary, conduct a security review, and improve security, particularly through the work of the UN Police, who have full responsibility for policing. He also highlighted extensive support for the elections, noting that voter registration is already underway and around 500,000 voters are expected to be enrolled by the time the process is completed next month.

The polls will be the first to be held in Timor-Leste since the tiny nation gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.