Activities of the Secretary-General in East Timor, 17-18 Feb 2000

The Secretary-General arrived in Dili from Jakarta on the morning of Thursday, 17 February. At the airport, he met jointly with his Transitional Administrator in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello and independence leader Xanana Gusmao, President of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). He then met with Mr. Gusmao alone.

They drove through the town of Dili, where about half of the buildings were burned out shells, many with tidy piles of charred rubble in front. Clean-up had begun in preparation for rebuilding.

The Secretary-General's party then travelled in United Nations helicopters to the town of Liquica, about 25 miles west of Dili, which had been a base for anti-independence militia and where post-referendum killing, rape and destruction were severe. As a result, it has been called the "Killing Field" of East Timor.

On descending from the helicopter, the Secretary-General was surrounded by villagers. An old man came up to him, embraced him tightly and cried.

They walked on to the village church, where hundreds had been massacred in April 1999. The Secretary-General laid a wreath at a monument to the dead. Survivors standing by began to cry and then wail. One after another of them came up to him and embraced him and his wife, Nane.

The Secretary-General and his party then continued walking down the road, which, he was told, had been renamed "Avenue of the Secretary-General of the United Nations".

The crowd, which had swelled to 5,000, by United Nations police estimates, poured onto the soccer field where Xanana Gusmao introduced the Secretary- General.

"I wanted to come here because I know that Liquica was particularly hard hit by the violence of the militia last year. I wanted to be able to tell you in person that the United Nations is here to help you rebuild. We want to help you recover from that tragic period in your history", the Secretary-General told the crowd. "It is particularly shocking to me that a house of worship should be desecrated in this manner."

Speaking of the families divided by massive forced deportations, the Secretary-General told the crowd: "My message to those still in exile is simple: Come home. East Timor is your country. We are here to work with you." He concluded by assuring the people that "Our work is to be guided by your concerns and your hopes. Together, we can weather the current crisis and usher in a new era for East Timor -- an era in which East Timor takes its place in the family of nations, and in which its men, women and children can live lives of dignity and peace". (See document SG/SM/7304.)

From Liquica he returned to Dili and went to the Governor's House, which is now the headquarters of the United Nations mission. He had a meeting with representatives of United Nations agencies working in East Timor. He then had a private meeting with Major General Peter Cosgrove, Commander of the International Force, INTERFET, and Major General Jaime de los Santos, the United Nations Commander who is in the process of taking over responsibility for security from INTERFET.

After addressing the staff, he attended a special meeting of the National Consultative Council (NCC), a body set up by the United Nations to allow the East Timorese to participate in decision-making in the territory.

He then had a meeting with Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Bishop Basilio Nascimento.

After that he joined his wife, Nane, who was meeting with 16 East Timorese women leaders.

On Thursday evening, he attended a reception hosted by Mr. Vieira de Mello.

On Friday morning, the Secretary-General walked the short distance from where he was staying to United Nations headquarters, where he was greeted by the largest crowd United Nations staff remember seeing here. Traditional leaders, accompanied by dancers and musicians, and hundreds of barefoot children, greeted him.

Before mounting the podium to speak, he spoke to the families of United Nations staff members who had been killed during last year's violence. They then accompanied him on to the open-air platform, where he was introduced by independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

The Secretary-General began by acknowledging the widows and children, saying their presence was symbolic of the losses suffered by all Timorese. "Your other family", he said, "-- the United Nations family -- joins in mourning your losses."

"Your strength and your dignity have inspired the world", he added. Now that the transition to independence has begun, "your long national nightmare is ending", he said. "Your dream of a peaceful and independent East Timor is about to become a reality."

"East Timor, are you ready?" he concluded. "The future starts now." (See document SG/SM/7307.)

These final words echoed a song that had been composed for East Timor's Millennial New Year's celebration, which a popular group then sang.

"The future is now", the song begins. "Timor, are you ready?"

The Secretary-General then went into the United Nations building, where he took questions from the press for about half an hour.

He then flew from Dili to Darwin, Australia, which had hosted 2,000 refugees from East Timor when the militia ran amok the previous September.