Persistent tensions threaten to undermine progress in Timor-Leste, warns Ban

12 October 2009

The root causes of the community tensions behind the violence that shook Timor-Leste in 2006 remain, threatening the nascent country’s fragile security, despite its recent peaceful celebration of 10 years since a vote for independence, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.

In April 2006, fighting – attributed to differences between eastern and western regions of the country – erupted when 600 striking soldiers were fired, and the ensuing violence claimed dozens of lives and drove 155,000 people, or 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.

Mr. Ban stressed that the causes underlying the 2006 crisis, including the rising level of poverty, persistent unemployment, the lack of an effective land and property regime, and under-strength justice and security sectors, could still destabilize the country.

“While the process of the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), a visible residual challenge from the 2006 crisis, has been by all measures successful, tensions in some communities remain and could lead to future local-level conflicts,” Mr. Ban said in his latest report on the UN mission in the Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

Contributing to the brittle state of the country, Mr. Ban noted that much remains to be done to fully develop and strengthen the security institutions in Timor-Leste, although he was encouraged that the national police force has begun to assume primary law enforcement responsibilities.

“More time is required to ensure that the various efforts aimed at tackling the many political, institutional and socio-economic challenges facing the young nation of Timor-Leste are allowed to take root in democratic institutions and processes,” Mr. Ban wrote.

Weaknesses in the judiciary continue to affect public confidence in the entire legal system, including in the national police, Mr. Ban said in his report to the Security Council. “Despite some progress, the prosecution service is still facing serious challenges owing in part to limited

specialized prosecutorial capacity and the lack of an overall functioning administrative system.”

Praising President Ramos-Horta for promoting dialogue across the country’s political spectrum to address priority issues facing the country, Mr. Ban warned against allowing the exchange of differing opinions to be exploited in heightening tensions in society.

In addition, he viewed renewed political dialogue on issues such as the provision of reparations to victims of criminal acts committed from 1974 to 1999, the period under Indonesian rule, as promising.

However, the “prolonged delay in delivering justice and providing reparations may further adversely affect public confidence in the rule of law,” said Mr. Ban, encouraging the Government to make every effort to ensure broad-based discussion and follow-up on the recommendations of the reports of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation and the Commission of Truth and Friendship, as promising.

On 30 August 1999, the United Nations-conducted a popular consultation, when Timorese turned out in huge numbers to vote on their future and overwhelmingly chose independence over autonomy within Indonesia. The eventual result was the birth of a State, but 1,500 to 2,000 people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the declaration.


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