Subject: "UNMISET's hastily replacement by UNOTIL in East Timor"

"UNMISET's hastily replacement by UNOTIL in East Timor"

Paulo Gorjao Professor at Lusiada University, in Lisbon, and editor in chief of the Portuguese foreign policy journal, «Politica Internacional».

In April 2004, in his progress report regarding the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, recommended maintaining it for one more year. In May, the UN Security Council did so, but made it quite clear that this was the last extension.

Yet, one year later, against the wishes of some Security Council members', a UN mission in East Timor was, once again, on the table. Unfortunately, further UN support was needed in East Timor. Thus, following a request made by East Timorese Prime-Minister, Mari Alkatiri, to the Secretary-General in January 2005, and after taking into account the views expressed by the UN Secretariat, Kofi Annan recommended in his February 2005 progress report regarding UNMISET the maintenance of a UN mission in East Timor.

As a result of the above, on 28 April, the Security Council adopted unanimously Resolution 1599, establishing a one year follow-on special political mission in East Timor, the UN Office in Timor Leste (UNOTIL), which will remain in East Timor until 20 May 2006.

The adoption of Resolution 1599 by unanimity is misleading. In the last two months Secretary-General has been in collision course with two Security Council permanent members, the United States and the United Kingdom.

In his February 2005 progress report regarding UNMISET, Kofi Annan advised the Security Council to maintain a UN mission with a scaled down structure for a period of up to another 12 months. The Security Council took into account the Secretary-General's proposal. In other words, as requested by Kofi Annan, Resolution 1599 provided up to 120 civilian, police and military advisers, as well as 10 human rights officers, in order to ensure sustained development and strengthening of key sectors such as the rule of law, police, justice, and human rights.

However, the Security Council disregarded a significant recommendation done by the Secretary-General. Indeed, Resolution 1599 ignored his proposal regarding a 144-person back-up security support, with airborne mobility, which would contribute to capacity-building regarding border patrol, and to monitor security-related developments along the border between East Timor and Indonesia.

East Timor and Portugal considered this a key issue. In their view, despite considerable improvements in the last two years, East Timor continues to be confronted with internal as well as external threats. In others words, there is a continuing problem regarding not only law and order, but also concerning former militia members based in West Timor.

The United States and Australia share the view that there is a law and order problem in East Timor, but do not think that there is a problem regarding external threats.

Quid juris?

It is undeniable that political and diplomatic relations between East Timor and Indonesia have improved considerably in the last two years. For instance, between December 2004 and February 2005, East Timor and Indonesia agreed to form a Truth and Friendship Commission to deal with human rights abuses perpetrated in 1999, as well as with other bilateral issues.

Indeed, high-level bilateral meetings became frequent, both in East Timor and Indonesia. The latest high-level meeting took place last March, when the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, visited East Timor and met, among others, his East Timorese counterpart.

Yet, as recently as last January, there were exchanges of gunfire in the border. Five years after the popular consultation in East Timor which, later on, would led to independence, reports of sightings in border areas of alleged former militia members continue to occur.

Thus, a cautious approach would imply the maintenance of some sort of UN military component. In other words, the UN should have kept a peacekeeping force in East Timor, instead of replacing it with a substantially scaled-down special political mission, with only up to 15 military advisers.

This hasty approach was dictated mainly by the United States' concerns with the increasing costs of UN peacekeeping forces. Washington pays a quarter of the UN peacekeeping budget. Whenever it is possible, and reasonable, the United States stands against further extensions of the peacekeeping mandates. East Timor was no exception to this diplomatic guideline.

Unfortunately, East Timor is increasingly out of the diplomatic radar of the international community. Therefore, it would be important to appoint someone with high profile to become the next Special Representative of the Secretary-General in East Timor. In other words, it should be appointed someone capable of coordinating the work of UNOTIL. Equally important, the new Special Representative should be someone with easy personal access to Kofi Annan. Despite significant improvements, East Timor still requires UN support.

Described in the last few years as a UN success story, it would be a shame that, after so much human and financial investment, East Timor ended as another story of UN failure and neglect.


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