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Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) in East Timor

Situation Report
Originally published


By Michael Elmquist, Chief, Military and Civil Defence Unit, Disaster Response Branch, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Geneva

In September 1999, at the request of the Humanitarian Coordinator for the East Timor Crisis, Mr. Ross Mountain, I had the exceptional privilege of being responsible for the establishment of Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) 1/ functions in East Timor. I have written this account of the situation in order to preserve some of the lessons learned and, for what it is worth, to provide a source of information for any future academic research in this field.


In the aftermath of the announcement on 4 September 1999 of the result of the 30 August ballot, more than 500,000 people were displaced by violence in East Timor. A further 250,000 were moved into West Timor and other areas, either by choice or through intimidation and these people remain at risk of continued intimidation and attack. Many hundreds of people were killed, looting was widespread, and in many areas the majority of houses were burned. The city of Dili was largely destroyed, and the situation was similar in the other large towns, particularly in the region to the west of Dili, running up to the border with West Timor. The crisis was further deepened when all Government functions, including public services and law and order, collapsed with the rapid and unexpected departure of the Indonesian authorities. The vacuum in East Timor was filled in the immediate term by the deployment on 20 September of the multi-national force, International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), and by humanitarian agencies.

Some of the agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had in fact been able to maintain a minimal presence throughout the crisis.

During the week of 13-20 September, the core components of INTERFET (Australian, British, French, New Zealand and Philippine forces) began to assemble in Darwin, Australia, preparing for deployment. Simultaneously, the UN humanitarian agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also gathered in Darwin. The Government of the Northern Territory graciously provided office space for the coordination of humanitarian assistance, and daily meetings were held under the chairmanship of the Humanitarian Coordinator a.i.

Recognizing that the humanitarian operation would be heavily dependent upon close cooperation with the military forces, the Humanitarian Coordinator called for the immediate establishment of a UN Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) component within his office. The UN CIMIC Team was staffed initially by the Chief of OCHA's Military and Civil Defence Unit 2/, supported by a British CIMIC Officer (former military) and a recently retired Brigadier General of the Australian army.

On 20 September 1999 ("D-day"), the first INTERFET forces deployed to Dili, East Timor. On the same day, the Secretary General's Special Representative (SRSG), Mr. Ian Martin, and the Humanitarian Coordinator a.i., Mr. Ross Mountain, accompanied by a core group of UN agency staff, also traveled to Dili and established Dili as centre for the coordination of humanitarian assistance within East Timor. From that moment, the coordination centre in Darwin became a logistical support centre. During the first four days after D-day, all UN personnel were accommodated within the Australian Consulate in Dili, almost the only building that had remained unharmed throughout the crisis. Coordination meetings were held around a small table in the basement, and floor space was soon saturated with cots and foam mattresses. INTERFET meanwhile established camp at the "Helipad", a WW2 airstrip close to the Australian Consulate, in use as airfield for helicopters.

On D+3, a service package, provided by the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA) in cooperation with the British Department for International Development (DFID), arrived in Dili at the request of OCHA. The service package was designed to provide accommodation, office equipment and communications for a total of 30 persons, 10 of which were DFID/SRSA support staff. Rather than using tents, the service package was established in high school buildings adjacent to the UNAMET compound.

The first occupants moved into the UN Humanitarian Operations Centre (UNHOC) on D+4, and within three weeks, the service package provided food for 50 people, sleeping accommodation for 60, and sanitation for approximately 150, including a large number of NGO personnel. (This detail is mentioned only because, as it turned out, the physical framework had a direct impact on the way in which coordination was carried out.) Also on D+4, INTERFET moved from the Helipad to a large building situated close to UNAMET and UNHOC.

Meanwhile, weekly coordination meetings were held in Geneva under the chairmanship of OCHA, and a coordination mechanism was also established in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Jakarta.


Upon arrival in Darwin on D-3, the UN CIMIC team immediately established contact with the UN agencies and NGOs present there, and with representatives of INTERFET. An initial meeting was held with Major Ian Stoddard (Australian Army), who, as the official CIMIC officer of INTERFET, was to play a key role in future civil-military relations. The CIMIC team also met with the logistical coordination centre established by the World Food Programme (WFP) 3/ and discussed the need for a fully integrated "Joint Civil-Military Logistics Centre" along the lines of the centre that existed in Entebbe Airport in October-December 1996. In the event, such a joint centre was not established, but regular logistical coordination meetings continued to take place in Darwin in addition to the daily meetings in Dili.

On D-1, on the basis of these initial contacts, the CIMIC team drew up a one-page conceptual framework for Civil-Military Cooperation, which was conveyd to the Force Commander, Major General Peter Cosgrove.

In all simplicity, the one page document explained that the objectives of civil-military cooperation would be two-fold: (1) Coordination arrangements, primarily to de-conflict the intended use of the same resources, and (2) specific arrangements to coordinate the use of military resources in direct support of humanitarian assistance operations. As illustrative examples, the document listed the following:

Coordination arrangements

  1. movement schedules
  2. use of airspace and airfield parking
  3. use of commercial transport (air and sea)
  4. enhanced information exchange
  5. joint planning
Military Support to Humanitarian Tasks
  1. "Safe environment"
  2. Protection of warehouses and key facilities
  3. Escort to convoys
  4. Service packages: water, electric power, shelter, health care, sanitation, road repair
In the evening of D-day, in the lounge of the Australian Consulate, the first meeting took place between the Force Commander and the Humanitarian Coordinator, supported by their respective staffs. On that occasion, the Force Commander expressed his total agreement with the purpose and intent of the civil-military cooperation arrangements proposed, but underlined that his mandate clearly stated that INTERFET's tasks were "to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and, within force capabilities, to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations" 4/, and that he intended to tackle the tasks in that order of priority. At the same meeting, the Humanitarian Coordinator explained that, in his view, the tasks of restoring security and providing humanitarian assistance were closely interlinked and had to be addressed simultaneously, not sequentially. He pointed out that the military task could not be successfully accomplished unless it was complemented by immediate humanitarian relief. The meeting demonstrated clearly that civil-military cooperation starts from the top and that close contacts between the Force Commander and the Humanitarian Coordinator are essential in a complex emergency. This was to be the first in a series of almost daily meetings face-to-face.

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