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Briefing to the Security Council by Special Representative of the Secretary General for East Timor

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On the situation in East Timor
New York, 3 February 2000

Mr. President, members of the Council, you have before you the report of the Secretary-General on the first three months of the Transitional Administration in East Timor. I trust that it conveys the situation which the vast majority of East Timorese face every day, as they recover from the devastating violence of September last year. In that month, roughly 750,000 people - out of a pre-consultation population of about 880,000 - were either internally displaced, if for brief periods, or fled or were forced across the border into West Timor. In addition to their houses, an overwhelming number of East Timorese lost their possessions and their life savings. In the aftermath of this devastation they lacked food security, basic health care, potable water and sanitation. Virtually all public buildings were burned and damaged and ransacked. The services they provided collapsed. The telecommunications system was destroyed, along with many radio networks, electrical supply was disrupted, and generators damaged. Furthermore, the main airport in Dili became inoperative and cross-border trade effectively ceased, adding to the territory's isolation.

The social and economic consequences of this upheaval are massive. East Timor was a poor territory before September 1999. It has been in a calamitous state since. Roughly 80% of the population is without means of support, yet prices of basic commodities are about double those of the pre-consultation period. The education system is slowly resurrecting, albeit on an informal, voluntary basis. There exist no local mechanism for maintaining law and order. After so many years of turmoil and successive legal regimes, disputed claims on property are widespread. Not surprisingly, there have been growing signs of rising criminality and disaffection over the past months. While this phenomenon stems in good measure from widespread unemployment and youth left idle, there are also indications that local rivalries and long-standing conflicts may be re-emerging in the form of community and gang violence. In the face of these problems, the people of East Timor are justifiably impatient to see improvements in their lives. Towards that end, UNTAET has set itself a number of key objectives for its first six months. The extent to which it achieves these goals will be the measure of its success in meeting the high expectations of the people, repairing and redressing the damage of East Timor's recent past, and fulfilling the ambitious, in fact, unprecedented mandate which the Council has given it.

First of all, UNTAET must ensure the physical security of all East Timorese and their access to a fair judicial system within an environment of law and order. UNTAET must also support UNHCR in the repatriation of all those refugees who wish to return from West Timor and elsewhere, and sufficient resources must be available to meet their shelter, health and sanitation needs during their reintegration. Meanwhile, basic administrative structures must be established at both the central and district levels, a civil service established, and East Timorese at all levels empowered to participate fully in the decisions made and implemented through these structures. Furthermore, the country must be moved out of the phase of humanitarian relief and basic public services brought fully on line. Reconstruction must start. Health services and the education system must be put back onto an even keel, and vital infrastructure, such as electricity and water supply systems must be fully restored. To sustain these efforts into the medium and long term, the economy as a whole must be put on a solid footing, with basic regulatory, fiscal and monetary structures in place. A series of regulations to allow for the resumption of normal economic and agricultural activity have been or will be passed, and a revenue base to sustain the government must begin to be collected. Finally, during its first six months UNTAET will have to collect, catalogue and guard evidence of the human rights abuses perpetrated in East Timor.

UNTAET has taken a number of steps towards meeting these objectives, but the challenges remain immense. As the members of the Council are aware, in the border areas and particularly the enclave of Oecussi Ambeno, the militias continue to pose a threat. Eight cross-border incursions by militias into Oecussi have taken place in the past weeks. I wish to reaffirm to the Council that the UNTAET peacekeeping force will deter or repel any such threats with the same firmness, as has INTERFET up to now. In East Timor's interior districts law and order is of increasing concern as public security is being undermined by a rising crime rate which reflects, in large part, the widespread unemployment and the disruptions to the education and social systems that have left many youth idle. In Baucau, for instance, which I visited in early January, gang battles, involving hundreds of youths, took place on an almost daily basis over the Christmas and new year period.

At present only 480 UN Civilian Police are in East Timor, far below their full strength of 1,610. The ability of the international Civilian Police to penetrate the society and access local information is obviously limited, so UNTAET is implementing measures to integrate local participation in police activities. As an immediate measure UNTAET will over the next few weeks institute a Police Assistance program, in which former East Timorese police officers of known quality are to serve as auxiliaries to CivPol. This program will be phased out once enough fully-fledged East Timorese police are trained at the new Police Academy, scheduled to begin operations in March. We have also entered discussions with the FALINTIL - the former liberation armed force -, which has indicated that it would be willing to lend - unarmed - its standing in the local community to crime prevention through community education and intercession to reduce community tensions.

It is also critical that the judiciary becomes fully functional. While ten East Timorese judges and prosecutors have been appointed and are working, these judges have little practical experience on the bench and need further mentoring and support. Thirty more candidate-judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers are currently being trained, but the pool of candidates remains limited. The court lacks even basic support staff, equipment and furniture. The prisons are in worse shape, and with INTERFET's detention center at full capacity, prisons in Dili and Baucau - which we are to reopen soon, after some repair work is completed - must be refurbished and staffed with qualified wardens if UNTAET is to be able to arrest and hold criminals.

With regard to the refugee repatriation, the Council has already been informed that the rate of return of refugees from West Timor has slowed down over the last two months, as the rainy season set in. The reasons for this are complex, stemming in part from militia intimidation in some of the camps and the misinformation regarding the true situation in East Timor, but also from the lack of basic services and destruction of infrastructure in the receiving areas. Some are genuinely concerned about their security. Many, especially among those who were previously employed by the Indonesian Administration, are hesitating until they are provided with a clear indication of their future benefits - including pension - and of their chances of joining the new East Timorese Civil Service.

Once the reconstruction and development projects supported by the World Bank Trust Fund begin to come on line and to have a tangible impact in East Timor, they will serve also to support the return of refugees. Until then, however, there is an immediate need for funding through the UN and Humanitarian Trust Funds for rapid start-up projects to provide employment and allow returnees and residents alike to set about rebuilding their communities immediately.

Since UNTAET's establishment, very good progress has been made in developing consultative mechanisms to ensure the full participation of East Timorese in decision making processes, particularly at the central level. The National Consultative Council has met on five occasions since its first session in December 1999 and reached consensus on eight fundamental regulations; it reviewed and gave its approval to development and reconstruction priorities, established an independent Public Service Commission responsible for developing the new civil service, and discussed the full range of issues facing East Timor at present.

With its emphasis on consensus, the NCC reflects the basic philosophy which guides UNTAET's work in East Timor, namely that our mission is to work not so much as an interim administration appointed to govern but as co-architects, along with the East Timorese, of a national administration that will serve the country long after UNTAET's departure.

The effective consultation established at the national level is also being pursued at the district level. This emphasis on consultation extends to other mechanisms as well. For example, the Transitional Judicial Services Commission, composed of UNTAET and East Timorese commissioners and chaired by Baucau Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, has held town hall type meetings to discuss justice issues, and myself and other UNTAET staff have held many similar open information dialogues with East Timorese.

From the date of my arrival, I have established a pattern of daily consultations with Mr. Xanana Gusmão and other members of the CNRT, on all important matters, outside the context of the NCC. We have also developed regular dialogue with pro-autonomy groups, either in the margin of the NCC meetings, or through visits to West Timor and Jakarta, such as the one I paid last week. Results have been mixed, with some groups displaying continued hostility towards the United Nations, as I experienced in Kapung. Others are not only open to dialogue, but keenly interested in strengthening communications and obtaining reassurances that could lead to their decision to return and participate peacefully and democratically in the future political life of the country. Xanana Gusmão has gone out of his way in promoting reconciliation. Additional combined efforts, which I have begun discussing with him yesterday, are undoubtedly called for. Relations with Indonesia are key on this and many other respects. Following Xanana Gusmão's and his delegation's own visit to Jakarta in early December 1999, I have twice visited Indonesia officially, with very encouraging results in political, economic, humanitarian and security terms. Last week, we agreed with Foreign Minister Shihab and other senior Indonesian officials, to launch comprehensive bilateral negotiations on a host of issues involving complex assets and liability claims. An agenda and timetable should be discussed and approved before President's Abdulrahman Walid's visit to Dili on 29 February. I found the attitude in Jakarta very constructive.

Through the NCC and its sectoral committees, UNTAET has set about building the regulatory framework necessary to underpin the administration of East Timor in all areas, including the economy, local governance, justice, public and civil services. In addition to the first regulation, which defined the legal framework applicable in East Timor during the transitional period, and the second, which established the National Consultative Council, regulations have been enacted to establish the Transitional Judicial Service Commission, a Central Fiscal Authority, the Public Services Commission and a Central Payment Office. Regulations concerning the registration of commercial enterprises, the use of currencies, the new legal tender, and the licensing of foreign exchange bureaux have also been passed. In the coming weeks, regulations on a range of pressing issues will be tabled, including the organization of ports, licensing and supervision of banks and government procurement procedures. The International Monetary Fund has provided us with invaluable support and advice from the early stages of this operation. Regulations to establish a border control service, a prosecutorial service and sub-district level councils are also being drafted. Also, a regulation to amend the currently applicable criminal procedure code will be necessary. Each regulation enacted since the establishment of the NCC was drafted by Technical Committees where East Timorese were in the lead, with UNTAET providing advice and support, and have been adopted by full consensus.

The effort to reestablish basic services and infrastructure, and thereby move from the humanitarian phase to a more sustainable administration of East Timor will be difficult in the short term. Innovative collaboration between UNTAET and bi-lateral aid agencies have helped keep the electricity supply going throughout 25% of the country, reaching about 50% of the population, and also helped with some road repair, including a half-million dollar project to ensure road access for the coffee harvests of mountainous Ermera District. Schools and health services, which have until now been supported by humanitarian agencies, must now be brought under the governance and public administration purview.

However, members of the Council should be aware of my main concern at present, namely that infrastructural and development projects provided for in the larger World Bank labor-intensive Trust Fund will not actually be implemented for some months. I am extremely grateful to the World Bank for its energetic involvement and for the exceptional partnership we have established. The first six-month plan requested by the Tokyo Conference in December has been formulated, and submitted to a Donor Meeting in Washington last week. Notwithstanding the Bank's real sense of urgency, UNTAET faces a gap in time which may well result in the perception amongst East Timorese during the next few months that little is being done to repair infrastructure, save for the UN's own facilities, for which assessed contributions will be available. Therefore, quick advance disbursements against the World Bank Fund, flexibility in the use of assessed resources and generous bilateral contributions will be essential to prevent social unrest.

As the members of the Council are aware, the Indonesian Investigative Commission as well as the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor have submitted their report. While it remains to be seen what mechanisms might be established to deal with the matter, UNTAET's human rights component has assumed the lead in the coordination of the investigative process, in line with the recommendations of both Commissions. Thus far, investigations into past human rights violations have been carried out by INTERFET, UN Civpol, and other international actors. It is essential that the information from these sources be consolidated and catalogued. Over 300 bodies have been found, and 71 different sites have been exhumed. In Liquicia, a mass grave of up to 17 persons was recently found and, likewise, in Oecussi, a gravesite of up to 60 bodies has been discovered. Further sites are waiting to be examined. UN CivPol has registered a total of 467 murders alleged by eyewitnesses, which would point to the likelihood that further victims may yet be found. A Human Rights Center has been established in Dili, which will serve as the center for investigations, evidence collection and cataloguing, training and to house the mortuary facility.

In the coming months, UNTAET will need to meet a number of serious challenges. First among these are the high expectations of the East Timorese, who will have displayed tremendous patience with the slow pace by which destruction of last September is being recouped. Also, East Timor has been sheltered from the outside world over the last two decades, and now the influx of foreigners, civilian and military, is proving to be a source of some tension and resentment. I am also concerned that our presence not have an adverse impact on East Timorese society and culture, and for that reason have issued a code of conduct, drawn up in consultation with our East Timorese staff, for all UNTAET staff to follow.

Establishing a new East Timorese administration calls for the urgent creation of a civil service. As recently agreed in the NCC, we have this very week begun paying a stipend to those thousands of individuals who have been engaged in voluntary civil and public service functions. This will be a provisional measure, pending the recruitment of new civil servants against a new salary scale, to be decided by the Independent Public Service Commission over the next three months. The civil service will, in 2000, only employ some 7,000 or so. Clearly, the problem of unemployment will have to be addressed through other means, by rapid implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.

I am confident that the very strong support, which the Council has thus far provided UNTAET, will continue to be one of its greatest assets. In particular, East Timor will rely upon your assistance to ensure that the recent harassment of East Timor's borders will not be allowed to continue, that the pro-autonomy groups and political militias in West Timor accept the outcome of the popular consultation and opt for a moderate democratic course of action. The remaining extremist groups and militias in West Timor should be disarmed and disbanded once and for all. Also, I wish to urge members of the Council to lend their influence to ensure that the Transitional Administration has access as early as possible to the necessary funds to carry out its mandate. This is especially essential for all the many costs related to the actual governance of a devastated country.

On the military side, a carefully planned, progressive take-over of the multinational military force - known as INTERFET - responsibilities by the UNTAET military component has begun on 1 February, with the transfer of the entire eastern section to UN command. This gradual process will continue in the next three weeks until full transfer in the latter part of February. I wish to pay tribute here to Major general Peter Casgrove, his officers, men and women of different contingents for INTERFET's remarkable achievements in restoring and maintaining security in East Timor and along its borders. As the Secretary-General indicates in his report, I shall remain very mindful of the Council's expectation of regular assessments of the necessary military strength, with a view to achieving possible reductions.

In terms of the political future and related frame, it is premature to predict when the process of having a Constitution should begin. This would lead to two other questions: regulation and political parties and elections. Given the urgent humanitarian and reconstruction problems we presently face, it is too early to launch a debate that is likely to politicize the environment and distract us from present issues during this initial emergency phase. I believe, however, that we shall start reflecting and perhaps acting on the substantial, long-term issues and the related calendar leading to independence, in the second half of the year 2000.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to summarize what I believe is at stake for the United Nations in East Timor. As a remote country of some 800,000 people with relatively few resources, East Timor is, in the final analysis, of little strategic importance. Nevertheless, the people of East Timor have fought, and suffered, for decades to achieve their independence. And until very recently, they did so in the face of general indifference from the international community at large. Thus, I believe the United Nations owes East Timor a debt. Equally, East Timor represents an unprecedented challenge for the United Nations. We are called upon to administer and govern a country, which is starting from nearly nothing in terms of resources. At a time of flagging confidence and growing cynicism about the multilateral system, East Timor provides us the opportunity to prove to the East Timorese, who for so long were without our support, and to ourselves, that UNTAET can be a paradigm of the nation-building endeavors of the latest generation.

Please see the Security Council Press Release

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