Dili, May 19, 2004 - At an afternoon ceremony at the Dili Heliport on 19 May, all official responsibility for policing and external security was turned over to the Timor-Leste Government by UNMISET. The colourful signing ceremony, including a parade of UN flags carried by UN police and formation marching by PKF contingents, marks the end at midnight of the current UNMISET mission.
"This is a historic occasion and an important milestone in Timor-Leste's history as an independent sovereign state," declared the Special Representative for the Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma following the formal signing transferring power. The UNPOL Police Commissioner Sandra Peisley and PNTL Commissioner Paulo Martins signed the police transfer document, and the SRSSG Kamalesh Sharma and the Timor-Leste President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri the document related to defence authority.
Ambassador Sharma had high praise for all the UN police and Peacekeeping Forces as well as the nations that have contributed them. Since October 1999, initially under INTERFET and then under UNTAET and UNMISET, "They have not only successfully maintained peace and security but have also trained and nurtured the police and defence forces of Timor-Leste, he said". The SRSG added that they had provided the "enabling environment for the leaders and the people of Timor-Leste to concentrate on social and economic development".
In congratulating the young Timor-Leste police and defence services on the great progress they have made in becoming competent forces, he cautioned, "It takes time for any country to build truly professional, efficient, accountable, responsive and impartial forces that can earn the respect and confidence of the communities they serve".
UNMISET was extended last week by the UN Security Council until May 2005, based on an interim Security Council review after six months. A key aspect of the extended mission will be continued mentoring and capacity building of the police service, as well as the public administration and justice system of Timor-Leste.
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri thanked the UN police and Peacekeeping Forces for their four-and-one-half-years of assistance. He said he would do his utmost to have the police and defense services work for the people of Timor-Leste. "I have no doubt that the Timor-Leste Police Service will be in a position to ensure security", the Prime Minister declared. "Whether we can face all the pressures put on us is the main issue", He said that in a country of rumours such as Timor-Leste, the police should not overreact. They have to develop the "capacity to resist such psychological pressures". He said "the Timor Leste police should use weapons only as a last resort. This is the kind of force we want".
Remarking about the extended UNMISET mission, the Prime Minister said, "We just hope our partnership will allow us to develop the capacity in the time remaining".
President Gusmao said he wanted to address a few words directly to the men and women of the UN Police and the Peacekeeping Forces who have served in Timor-Leste since 1999. "I express my profound gratitude to you", the President said, "for helping to build a culture of peace. We will face many new challenges," the President continued, "but they cannot be overcome without security".
The Timor Leste President gave special thanks to those UNPOL and PKF forces who lost their lives in service to Timor-Leste. In addition, he acknowledged the contribution of the PKF, in particular, for local community projects throughout the country, including road building, tai chi classes and other educational and recreational initiatives. "They have created a lasting friendship between us", he concluded.
Following the signing ceremony at the Heliport, SRSG Kamalesh Sharma and his wife were hosting a final farewell reception for Timorese leadership and UNMISET colleagues.