With no significant security incidents having occurred following last week’s attempts on the lives of both the President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, the top United Nations peacekeeping official today lauded the leaders and people of the tiny nation for remaining calm and displaying restraint.
“What some feared might have deteriorated into a destabilizing crisis did not transpire, with the institutions of the State and citizens showing strong resilience,” Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told an open debate of the Security Council.
He urged the Timorese to continue holding back from politicizing the attacks on President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, who were attacked separately on 11 February.
Mr. Gusmão escaped unhurt, but Mr. Ramos-Horta was flown to Australia for surgery after being shot at his home. He is currently in stable condition and doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.
A “state of siege” was declared on 11 February and has been extended until 23 February. “In taking these measures, the Government and the Parliament have acted with restraint and with due respect for the Constitution and human rights,” Mr. Guéhenno said at the meeting, which heard from two dozen speakers.
But given that the country came so close to a real breakdown, it is imperative that the grievances of supporters of the late fugitive leader Alfredo Reinado and petitioners, as well as the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs), be tackled immediately, the peacekeeping official noted.
Each issue, “in and of itself, should be solvable with a concerted effort across the political spectrum,” he said.
Mr. Reinado, who was killed during the attack on the President at the his residence, had been the target of investigations by the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste which was set up to examine the deadly violence that erupted in April-May 2006. It found that the leader and his group were reasonably suspected of committing crimes during that period.
The 2006 crisis, attributed in part to differences between Timor-Leste’s eastern and western regions, began in April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the overall armed forces. Ensuing violence claimed at least 37 lives and drive 155,000 people, or about 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes. The Security Council created the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in August that year to help restore stability.
At today’s meeting, Mr. Guéhenno emphasized the importance of addressing the issue of the displaced, who number 100,000 in Timor-Leste.
“The IDP situation is a political and security concern as well as a humanitarian one, and largely considered as neither short-term nor easily ‘fixed,’” he said, calling for a “holistic” approach involving bolstering security and strengthening the legal framework for resolving land and property disputes, among other measures.