The United Nations mission in Timor-Leste today marked ten years since the historic UN-organized referendum that led to the independence of the South-east Asian nation.
Timorese turned out in huge numbers on 30 August 1999 to vote in the popular consultation on their future. The result – announced five days later on 4 September – was an overwhelming choice for independence over autonomy within Indonesia.
UN administrators moved in soon after the vote, which was followed by widespread violence in which 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed, and helped shepherd Timor-Leste to its eventual independence as a State in 2002.
Speaking at today’s ceremony, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, highlighted the unique nature of the relationship which has developed between the Timorese people and the UN over the last decade.
“Rich working relationships and great friendships have been developed over the past ten years between Timorese United Nations staff members, and international staff members and UN Volunteers from all over the world,” said Mr. Khare, who serves as head of the UN mission, known as UNMIT.
“A special element of this unique relationship, developed over the last ten years, is the long working relationship so many Timorese people have developed with the United Nations – with the peacekeeping missions, as well as with the UN agencies, funds and programmes,” he added.
During today’s ceremony, attended by President Jose Ramos-Horta, 100 Timorese UN staff members who have served the world body continuously since 1999 received awards in recognition of their service.
It was just one of a series of events held this week around the country to mark the occasion, along with the inaugural Tour de Timor cycling race, peace festivals and concerts.