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also Note on the Proposed UN Mission Debate by James Dunn
see also Why is Australia fighting in New York to keep control of the Peacekeeping Force in Timor-Leste?

Forum ONG Timor-Leste
The Timor-Leste NGO Forum

Caicoli Street, Dili Timor-Leste
Phone: 7240107-7254912 email: etngocentre@hotmail.com

Statement of Civil Society Supporting a UN-led security presence in Timor-Leste

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.

Australian soldier serving with UNMISET  
Australian soldier serving with the United Nations Mission In East Timor. Australian Military Public Affairs  

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


Note on the Proposed UN Mission Debate

By Australian analyst James Dunn
former UNTAET adviser, and Expert on Crimes against Humanity

August 22, 2006

The Security Council's decision on the new mission for East Timor has evidently been delayed, largely thanks to Australia's insistence that the predominantly Australian military force now in Dili remain separate, and under Australian command. The US and its leading Asian ally, Japan, strongly supported the Australian position, with some help from the UK. All other delegates backed the Secretary-General's view that the mission should be under UN authority.

The Australian proposal is not, however, in Timor Leste's interests. There is no good reason why our military force, which will be modest in size, should not come under UN authority, not least because an Australian officer is likely to be chosen as PKF commander. Helping Timor Leste overcome its present problems is essentially an international concern, and should therefore be addressed accordingly. It is important that the international presence not be configured in such a way as to diminish Timor Leste's standing as an independent state. The Australian proposal has already raised suggestions that the new nation will become a client state, one whose future is dependent on support from Canberra.

There is nothing in our military's past experience in Timor to justify a green helmet operation. UNTAET's PKF, in which Australian troops were the largest contingent, performed its role effectively. For our force to demand a separate status at this time will also be perceived as a slight to the UN's role, a slight that it does not deserve. In the event the role of the military in the new mission is less important than that of the international police component. Dealing with those responsible for the current wave of violence is essentially a police responsibility. It is interesting to note that the region's major contributors, Japan aside, have supported Kofi Annan's call for an integrated UN mission. Meeting Australia's request could also be interpreted as a hint that the UN should not be given full authority for dealing with a problem that it itself bears some responsibility for. However, the UN is not really responsible for the past failures behind the present crisis. True, the mandate was of too short duration, but the brevity of its mission was largely the outcome of pressures from the major donors, and from the Timorese leaders themselves, for an early end to the mission. In one of our last conversations on this aspect, Sergio Vieira de Mello was clearly concerned about this aspect.

It is difficult to understand, let alone sympathize, with the Australian position. The fact that East Timor covers a rather small area underlines the need for an integrated UN mission. Some will see Australia's position as reflecting that of the United States which refuses to place its forces under UN command. Such a stand represents an arrogant denial, if not an undermining, of the UN's authority under the Charter, and it should not be accommodated.

This was originally sent as a private email to some UN officials. It is circulated with the permission of the author.


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