Statement of civil society supporting a UN-led security presence in Timor-Leste

Originally published
The serious violence that Timor-Leste has experienced for the past 5 months has created security conditions that have had serious repercussions. Many people have become victims of the conflict, having lost homes and some having lost members of their family. At present there are many internally displaced people all over the country. This situation led the government in May to take the decision to invite four nations to establish security and stability.

In June, Ian Martin, the Envoy of Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan visited Timor-Leste to consult with the government, NGOs, religious organisations, and other sections of society. The outcome of these consultations formed the basis of recommendations for a new mission. Timor-Leste agreed to continue the mission of the UN in Timor-Leste operating with an improved role. Shortly after this, in June, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer began to lobby members of the Security Council to accept Australian leadership of a security presence during a UN Mission.

Last week the Security Council debated a new UN mission. But a decision on this could not be reached and UNOTIL was extended for a further week until 25 August while members debated the military component. Australia, as a member of the four-country Joint Task Force (JTF), does not want a UN-led military component and wants to maintain its current leadership position in the new mission. It is supported in these aims by the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. However, the other three countries in the JTF - Portugal, New Zealand and Malaysia - agree on UN leadership.

In terms of the current security situation in Timor-Leste, there is a need for a military presence, as well as police, to instil a sense of security in displaced people and communities so that they can return home, to ensure justice for the victims of current conflict and to guarantee security for the 2007 general elections.

While Timor-Leste needs security for the reasons described above, we believe other broader reasons demonstrate that the UN are best placed to provide the military component of a security presence in our country.

The advantages of a UN military component are:

1. There will be a greater degree of accountability for UN forces as it is a civilian led, international, neutral institution.

2. Integrating the member countries of the JTF into a UN-led military presence will help build confidence in the members of the JTF and eliminate negative perceptions that are beginning to take root. In the context, it is important for the government of Timor-Leste to have a clear policy on which option it prefers and for what reasons.

3. There is an inherently unequal relationship in Timor-Leste's dealings with other more powerful countries on a bilateral basis. Working through the UN would avoid this situation.

For these reasons, civil society is very concerned about the possibility of an Australian-led military component, and takes the following position:

We support the presence of a UN-led military component in Timor-Leste. We ask that the JTF continue to provide security in Timor-Leste, but submits to the command of the new UN Mission. We ask that the United Nations Security Council come to a quick resolution of this issue to avoid further uncertainty over security that ultimately affects the people of Timor-Leste. We ask that the nations that support Australian leadership of the military component (United States, United Kingdom and Japan) accept UN leadership of this. We ask that the government of Timor-Leste define measures that are clear and definitive regarding a new UN-mission in our country.

Maria Angelina Sarmento
NGO Forum

Santina Soares
La'o Hamutuk

Representatives of Civil Society
Dili, 22 August 2006

For further information please contact: Santina Soares or Alex Grainger +670 3325013
Forum ONG Timor-Leste
The Timor-Leste NGO Forum
Caicoli Street, Dili Timor-Leste
email: etngocentre@hotmail.com