Subject: JP: United Nations must stay in East Timor after 2004

Jakarta Post

Opinion September 03, 2003

United Nations must stay in East Timor after 2004

Paulo Gorjao, Lecturer Lusiada University, Lisabon

Australian, East Timorese and Indonesian foreign ministers, respectively Alexander Downer, Jose Ramos Horta and Hassan Wirayuda, met on Aug. 25 in Adelaide during their second Trilateral Summit. This followed the first trilateral summit in February 2002 in Bali.

The main issue was the future of the UN in East Timor. This is because the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), established in May 2002, will end in May 2004. The aim of UNMISET has been to devolve all operational responsibilities to the East Timorese authorities, without jeopardizing stability.

It is already obvious in Canberra, Dili and Jakarta that the devolution of operational responsibilities by UNMISET will not be possible by May 2004 without jeopardizing stability.

Indeed, many in Canberra, Dili, and Jakarta see East Timor as potentially a failed state. More than anyone, Australia and Indonesia -- the two closest neighbors and the ones with common borders -- have a deep interest in East Timor's stability. The consequences of East Timor's lack of stability are likely to spill over to their own territories.

Thus, apart from other possible reasons, self-interest dictates that Canberra and Jakarta have an interest to see a stable and prosperous East Timor. The best way to do so is to lobby the UN to extend its peacekeeping presence in East Timor after 2004.

The first reason for this is political. Only the UN has the unquestioned political legitimacy to maintain a peacekeeping force in the territory. An Australian military force without a UN mandate could trigger renewed hostility and violence from former East Timorese prointegration militias, still at large in West Timor.

Neither Australia nor Indonesia wishes to see themselves involved once again in a situation of political tension related to East Timor. Moreover, neither Canberra nor Jakarta wishes to see their bilateral relation hijacked by the territory.

The second reason why Australia and Indonesia should actively lobby the UN to extend its peacekeeping presence in East Timor after 2004 is financial. The extension of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor will imply fewer financial costs, particularly for Australia. If the UN remains in East Timor after 2004, then the UN budget will pay part of the costs of the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) presence in the territory. After all, with or without a UN peacekeeping force in East Timor after 2004, Australia is highly likely to maintain the ADF in the territory anyway.

Last but not the least, the UN peacekeeping presence is important to ensure that other Southeast Asian countries remain engaged with East Timor. Without a UN peacekeeping force, they would likely distance themselves from Australia's efforts in the territory. This would be an unwelcome outcome both for Canberra and Jakarta.

East Timor is now a sovereign state but continues to be a fragile nation, politically, economically and socially. Thus, the consolidation of democracy in the territory can only profit from a renewed UN commitment toward East Timor.

The UN considers East Timor to be one of its success stories. It would be a shame if, after so much effort, everything were be lost because the UN Secretariat and Security Council were not willing to extend their peacekeeping presence in the territory a little longer.

The writer is editor of http://www.timor-leste.blogspot.comand and a former Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defense Studies Center.

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