Subject: IRIN: TIMOR-LESTE: Security environment relatively stable

TIMOR-LESTE: Security environment relatively stable

10 Feb 2008 14:14:50 GMT

Source: IRIN

DILI, 10 February 2008 (<>IRIN) - "The security situation in Dili and across the country over the week has remained relatively calm with low level disturbances occurring at irregular intervals in Dili and the districts… There have been a total of 40 incidents with an average of six incidents per day."

Thus reads the UN security update for 26 January to 1 February for Timor-Leste, a country of just over one million people. The number of incidents, which for some months now have stayed in the range of six or so per day, are a pleasant surprise - particularly given the countrywide violence of 2006 with 38 dead, 6,000 homes burned, 150,000 displaced, and observers questioning whether Timor might be a failed state.

"In terms of criminality," UN special representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste Atul Khare told IRIN, "just five to six incidents a day." Such a rate of incidents, if transposed to New York with its over 8 million people, would translate into 50 or so incidents per day, an exceptionally low rate for that city, he said.

Of course, there is no denying Timor-Leste faces a host of serious challenges. Resettling some 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), establishing effective justice, police and defence systems, and resolving a host of land and property issues, are amongst the biggest.

But the current relatively quiescent security environment - breached only occasionally, as with two recent small explosions in Dili that did no damage and the rare provocation by Alfredo Reinado, a renegade former defence force commander who remains at large - is conducive for Timor-Leste to carry out its much needed reforms.

A new government, elected in 2007, is now in place and dialogue is ongoing between political parties. Even an "international compact" has been endorsed by the government's Council of Ministers in which the international humanitarian community will cooperate closely in the implementation in 2008 and 2009 of a national agenda of reforms and development projects in key sectors.

International presence

The stable security environment exists in large part because of the presence of an international security force of over 1,000 troops and a UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste that includes UN police and civilian staff. The UN mission is lending its support to everything from strengthening the legal and justice system, to reintegration of displaced people, and the establishment of an effective disaster information and response mechanism.

Perhaps the greatest success of Timor-Leste, UN officials say, is its track record in moving towards democracy.

In 2001 and 2002, when the country held successful national elections for a constituent assembly and then for a president, it was acknowledged throughout the world as a glowing example of democracy in action. This should not be overlooked, Atul Khare, the UN special representative for the Secretary-General in Timor-Leste, told IRIN: "The government is still committed to democracy… even after all that 2006 violence," he said, adding that 80 percent of the population "voted in peace".

He noted that the government is now fully committed to a national recovery plan scheduled to begin in the months ahead.

The special representative is cautiously optimistic and enthusiastic about the promise Timor-Leste holds. "The reason it deserves the continued support of the international community," he told IRIN, "is not because it would fail but because the potential for success is in sight." He said: "It has values that should be acknowledged by the rest of the world."

Youthful population

Some 50 percent of the population are young people. Currently, there is a high rate - as much as 70 percent - of unemployment and underemployment amongst youth. "The government now recognises in its national recovery plan what an important resource the young are." Khare said. "If trained and properly educated… they will be very productive," he said, adding that this would be a key area for the government in the months and years ahead.

"In general," Khare said, "all the Timorese people are creative and innovative." The challenge now, he said, is that "their talents must be channelled in a productive way."

"Geographically, Timor Leste is located in a very dynamic part of the world… Many of Timor's neighbouring countries are not less developed," which, he said, was not usually the case with extremely poor countries. Timor's neighbours can provide it with myriad business and employment opportunities, Khare believes, if the country's hard-working population gains the necessary skills.

Oil, gas

A potential boost to that process, said Khare, are Timor's offshore oil and gas reserves from which it is now beginning to receive significant proceeds. If managed wisely, he said, they will play a key role over time in building the country's infrastructure and in nurturing skills and employment opportunities.

Khare is emphatic that Timor-Leste is anything but a failed state. He refers to it as a young democracy going through growing pains. In that light, he acknowledges that the sine qua non of Timor-Leste's future success will be the continued "strengthening of the country's democratic institutions", a process he believes is under way but needs continued nurturing.


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