Subject: UN Govt In East Timor Struggling -Head Of UN Mission

Associated Press April 2, 2001

UN Govt In East Timor Struggling-Head Of UN Mission

SINGAPORE (AP)--The United Nations' transitional government in East Timor is still struggling, leaving much to "sheer luck" despite 18 months in power, the head of the U.N. mission running the new nation said Monday.

"We're only just coming to terms with the reality of government. While we do much that is right, there is still far too much left to improvisation and to sheer luck," Sergio Vieira de Mello said.

East Timor's medical facilities and judicial system, for example, need urgent attention, Vieira de Mello said at a conference in Singapore.

In trying to get the country running, the U.N. leadership in East Timor is dealing with severely under-trained surgeons and judges "whose experience is confined to a university library," he said.

Vieira de Mello was delivering the opening speech at a conference on how to implement the findings of a report released last year by an international panel, which called for a total overhaul of U.N. peacekeeping.

He said the U.N. must learn from its past mistakes. In 1999, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan apologized for the organization's failure to halt the 1994 Rwandan genocide after it pulled its peacekeepers out of the African nation.

"We need to avoid the mistakes of the past and ensure that the departure of a peace operation does not lead to a vacuum in the country in question, or a sense of abandonment," Vieira de Mello said. "This is what we are trying to avoid in East Timor."

East Timor has been under U.N. rule since November 1999, after the former Indonesian territory voted for independence. The U.N. took over from an Australian-led international peacekeeping force that quelled a violent anti-independence backlash by Indonesia-backed militias.

Vieira de Mello said the recent worldwide proliferation of peacekeeping activities has highlighted the U.N.'s limitations in conducting such operations.

"The organization remains the best option available, but it could be much better," he said.

The front line of peacekeeping operations have moved from mainly military and policing tasks to governance, he added.

The delegates at the two-day Singapore conference, including U.N. and government representatives and nongovernment organizations, were drawing up a list of recommendations on peacekeeping based on lessons learned from recent experiences. The list will be submitted to the U.N. security general and the Security Council.

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