Subject: IHT: UN haste puts East Timor at risk

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

International Herald Tribune

Monday, February 24, 2003


UN haste puts East Timor at risk

Shepard Forman IHT

Too early to quit

NEW YORK - Even as the United Nations focuses like a laser on Iraq, it must not lose sight of its other commitments. The UN Security Council laid the framework for East Timor's independence nine months ago, but now the nascent state is at risk from a UN plan to withdraw support before the East Timorese have had time to lay the foundations of lasting security and stability.

The United Nations, the World Bank and numerous nongovernmental organizations have done their best to shepherd East Timor to independence. But threats to security remain, both from civil unrest - as evidenced in a rampage Dec. 4 in Dili, the capital - and from renegades waiting patiently across the border for the international force to leave. Thousands of refugees, lacking the means to continue the agriculture that has long provided their livelihood, have resettled in Dili, swelling its population from 60,000 to 200,000 people and creating an urban concentration of underemployed, dispossessed and disaffected youth.

Too little has been invested in training programs for the civil administration and for an incipient defense and police force capable of maintaining internal order and securing its borders. Public works, schools and housing - totally destroyed by roving militia bands after the East Timorese voted for independence over integration in Indonesia - have been only partially rebuilt.

To make matters worse, there has been little of the foreign investment that East Timor desperately needs to jump-start and sustain the economy and produce tax revenues for the state.

The United Nations, and especially the Security Council, has much to be proud of in East Timor. The council and the UN's senior leadership showed their resolve when devastating militia attacks plunged East Timor into crisis in September 1999. By insisting that Indonesia yield on its staunch resistance to an international peacekeeping force, and by setting up the transitional authority that governed the island until the East Timorese flag was raised in May 2002, the council contained a violent conflict and prepared the way for East Timor's independence.

Rather than declaring its mission a success, however, and insisting on a strict timetable for withdrawal, the Security Council needs to carefully measure the distance East Timor still needs to travel before it can stand entirely on its own.

In June 2002 the United Nations, with Security Council authorization, put into effect a "successor mission plan" for a downsized and temporary support system for the new East Timor government. It calls, largely on French insistence, for a rapid reduction of UN technical assistance and security personnel to zero over a two-year period. Unfortunately, in its haste to exit, the Security Council does not seem to be heeding its own admonition to ensure the security and stability of the nascent state.

The positive beginning the United Nations achieved in East Timor could easily be squandered if the Security Council does not complete the job it started. Despite having spent more than $1 billion over the last three years, the international community has insufficiently prepared East Timor to fully exercise its sovereign authority or provide for the welfare of its traumatized citizens.

East Timor serves as an important test case of the Security Council's willingness to see its resolutions through to their intended conclusion. If the Security Council does not reconsider its scheduled formula for downsizing the UN's civilian, military and police support group, the long-term objective of creating the first new democratic state of the 21st century could be at serious risk.

The East Timorese are among the world's most resilient and self-reliant people. With the UN and the Security Council at their side, they won their 27-year struggle for independence and have taken the first steps toward recovery. The UN should extend its stay, to give them the extra time and assistance they need to build the political, economic and security institutions on which their fledgling democracy must be founded.

The writer directs the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and is co-editor of "Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy."

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