UN will not rest until East Timor securely in family of nations, says Secretary-General in address to people of East Timor

Press Release - SG/SM/7307 - 20000217

Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the people of East Timor, delivered in Dili on 17 February:

I am honoured to be here with you. Your strength and your dignity have inspired the world.

I have come to East Timor to learn more about your lives and your hopes for the future. I am also here to assure you that the United Nations will continue to be your partner as you take the final steps in your long struggle for independence.

You suffered enormously to reach this moment. Thousands of your loved ones died. Many of you were denied your basic human rights. But, throughout your ordeal, you kept hope alive. Now, like other peoples around the world, you finally have an opportunity to build a State of your own.

No one will ever forget how brave you were last August. You refused to be intimidated. Almost everyone who registered turned out to vote. And you made your wishes very clear: nearly four of every five voters said "yes" to a free East Timor. That day, the thirtieth of August, marked the dawn of East Timor's new millennium.

Of course, we will also never forget the extreme violence that erupted. I want to express my most profound revulsion at the murder, mayhem and destruction of last September. I wish we could have prevented or contained it. But, your cries of agony were heard around the world. I know it seemed like a very long time before help arrived. But, an international force did come to East Timor to restore order. Now, the United Nations is here to work with you to rebuild.

The devastation I have been able to see is far worse than what I had imagined from what I saw on television. You need jobs. You need shelter. You want those who are guilty to be brought to justice. I know that you are worried about crime. About family and friends still in exile. And about the slow pace of recovery. No wonder Mr. Gusmao said recently that all of you are "thinking how difficult tomorrow is going to be".

My friends, tomorrow is going to be difficult. Reconstruction is an immense task. So is reconciliation among East Timorese. But if all of you, and all of us, stand together, I have no doubt that things will get better.

Great numbers of people around the world support your cause. The international community has promised more than $500 million in assistance. That money must soon start to flow. United Nations humanitarian and development agencies, as well as the World Bank, are here. So are private companies and voluntary groups. Before coming to Dili, I met in Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta with many leaders of the region. Each expressed a willingness to help. And each recognized that East Timor is an important part of the region.

The United Nations mission, UNTAET, is here to work with you. It is not an occupying force or foreign administration. You may feel overwhelmed to have so many strangers filling your streets so suddenly. But our work must be guided by your wishes. The aim of UNTAET is to help you, the men and women of East Timor, take the reins of power. We want to help you establish, as quickly as possible, a peaceful, stable, democratic, independent State. But this will take time. We must all be patient.

Sergio Vieira de Mello and his team have formed excellent ties with your leaders. I am grateful to the Philippines for giving us Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos to serve as UNTAET force Commander. He takes over from Major General Peter Cosgrove of Australia, whose solid leadership of INTERFET helped restore calm after the crisis. I would also like to thank the many other governments who have generously provided troops and personnel.

For my part, it has been a privilege to work closely with Xanana Gusmao over the past year. His recent tour of the region was a good start for the crucial work of building harmonious relations with your neighbours. President Wahid's visit next week is an important opportunity to continue that process.

I have great hope for the future of East Timor. You are a dynamic and determined people. Your long national nightmare is ending. Your dream of a peaceful and independent East Timor is about to become a reality. When it does, your triumph will also be a triumph for the ideals of the United Nations. There is much hard work ahead. But we will do it together. The United Nations will not rest until East Timor has found a secure foothold among the family of nations. My friends, Viva Timor Loro Sae!