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Timor-Leste faces serious challenges despite recent gains, Security Council told

Timor-Leste faces serious challenges despite recent gains, Security Council told

Amb. Dumisani S. Kumalo
While Timor-Leste has recovered well from the violent crisis that engulfed it last year, it continues to grapple with a host of challenges including the fate of about 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and widespread poverty, the head of a recent United Nations Security Council mission to the tiny nation said today.

“The challenges of governance and the legacy of the 2006 violent crisis and its aftermath continue to haunt the country’s political leadership and affect the people of Timor-Leste,” South African Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo stated, as he briefed the Council on the 24 November to 1 December visit to the country which the UN helped shepherd to independence in 2002.

During their visit, the Council team – which also included delegates from China, Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Slovakia and United States – gained first-hand knowledge of the issues the country has to address, meeting with a wide range of people from Government, civil society and the UN family.

Mr. Kumalo noted that the general and security situation in Timor-Leste remains calm and stable, although fragile. The country held successful presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year, all 15 political parties were working together and civil society seemed to be flourishing.

But Timor-Leste still faces enormous challenges associated with political differences among leaders in resolving critical issues, and difficulties associated with widespread unemployment and poverty.

Mr. Kumalo noted in particular the unresolved issues of the so-called “petitioners” – former soldiers who deserted the army – as well as the IDPs, who are currently settled in about 53 camps. “In the short-term, it is crucial that the Government of Timor-Leste, with the support of the United Nations and the international community, work together to improve the living conditions of the IDPs,” he stated.

In addition, the mission found that Timor-Leste faces challenges related to weak institutions, lack of capacity and difficulties in governance, and the security and justice sectors needed strengthening.

“Despite these challenges, the mission left Timor-Leste convinced that the country is on the right path of regaining its role as a peaceful, stable, united and prosperous country,” Mr. Kumalo said.

He added that everyone the mission spoke with agreed on the importance of the continued presence of the UN in the country, including that of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

Echoing the assessment of the Council mission, the Ambassador of Timor-Leste said that while considerable progress has been made since the April 2006 crisis, the challenges facing his country are “enormous.”

“Though the atmosphere of general improvement of peace and security is welcome, it should not be replaced by complacency or another premature celebration,” said Nelson Santos.

He assured the Council that the Government and people of Timor-Leste are doing all they can to consolidate peace and stability, “in order to firstly free our people from poverty and to secondly, but not less importantly, absolve the United Nations from its responsibilities in this regard.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Timor-Leste as part of his trip to Asia in the coming weeks. He plans to visit UNMIT, meet with Government officials and address the National Parliament, as well as stop at camps for the internally displaced.