Secretary-General underlines role of Darwin, Australia in effort to rebuild East Timor

News and Press Release
Originally published
Following is the text of today's address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the people of Darwin, Australia:

Let me say how glad I am to be in Darwin. This is my first visit to Australia. As I am fresh off the plane from East Timor, it is fitting that Darwin should be my first port of call.

I understand that Darwin recently marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Cyclone Tracy, and that 'Tracy' was a defining moment for this city. I am told that you responded to that disaster with great spirit; you came together as a real community.

That same spirit has been on display in the way you have supported international efforts to bring peace to East Timor and relief to those who suffered, and are still suffering, from last summer's terrible upheaval. I have no doubt that this experience will also leave a similar lasting and positive impression on the city. It has certainly left one on the international community.

Darwin has become the launching pad for a major international peacekeeping and peace-building operation. When violence erupted, Darwin established a reception centre to welcome refugees. It was your city that provided basic human needs, such as shelter, food and clothing for almost 2000 refugees. It was your city that provided a safe haven for United Nation staff who were forced to evacuate Dili. And today, Darwin is the place to which international and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff come for a little "R and R", to restore themselves for the hard work still to be done.

All of you have shown great generosity in hosting an enormous number and great variety of people. I felt it was my duty as Secretary-General to stop here. On behalf of the United Nations, I thank the Government of the Northern Territory and all those people who, during the crisis, opened their hearts and doors to people in need, and to people who had come to help those in need.

The activity in Darwin has calmed down somewhat. But, I know that you remain heavily involved in rebuilding East Timor. East Timor is benefiting from your knowledge of tropical disease and your expertise in reconstruction in remote tropical climates. Where once there was destruction, today we see the gradual restoration of electricity, water, ports, roads, bridges, buildings and other vital services. And where once there was despair, we see hope emerging - in no small measure because of your solidarity and support. You should be proud of what you have done.

You can also be proud of the role your nation, in general, has played. As you know, the East Timorese hunger for freedom spanned many decades. Last year, despite a threatening security climate, East Timorese men and women registered to vote and then flocked to the polls in extraordinary numbers, testimony to their thirst to control their lives and destiny. But there were others who tried, with cruel and indiscriminate violence, to defy the will and expressed wishes of the East Timorese people. It is no exaggeration to say that, without Australia's efforts during those crucial days of violence in September, the situation in East Timor might have gone from very bad to much, much worse. The East Timorese might not have had the chance for peace and development they have today.

With its leadership of the International Force for East Timor; with no less than 4,500 Australian personnel on the ground under the command of Australian Major General Peter Cosgrove; and with substantial pledges of aid and assistance, Australia has signalled to the international community its strong commitment to peace, to human rights and to the global mission of the United Nations. The situation on the ground is now much improved, though of course, there is a long way to go before East Timor is on sustainable -- and self- sustaining -- footing.

The effort to rebuild East Timor is only one of many tests ahead for the United Nations. The international community will be challenged again, and we must rise to the challenge -- as one. More than ever, we all face a common destiny. Our only hope is to face it together. In today's world, almost any challenge or problem has a compelling international dimension, demanding that nations think less about what divides them and what their "national" interest might be, and more about how they can work together. After all, increasingly the collective interest is the national interest. That, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.

Through the United Nations, we are working together to preserve peace; to outlaw weapons that kill and maim indiscriminately; to bring mass murderers and war criminals to justice. We are working for healthy and balanced development -- the best form of conflict prevention -- and to make clean air and water available to everyone. Through the United Nations, we are working together to make human rights a reality for everyone -- to give all human beings real choices in life, and a real say in decisions that affect their lives. If the rest of the world responds with the same kind of gusto and goodwill shown by the people of Darwin, I would say we stand a very good chance of success.

Let me again thank the Government of the Northern Territory and the splendid array of people who have turned out today -- NGO representatives, businessmen and women, members of religious groups and others who make up the great city of Darwin. Actions speak louder than words. Your actions demonstrate your belief in the spirit of international cooperation. You have long been friends of the United Nations and I look forward to even closer ties as we move ahead in the new millennium. Thank you again for your hospitality.