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UN On East Timor

Source United Nations, compiled by Scoop.

From Daily Highlights, Tuesday, 6 July, 1999

Security Council members demand end to violence in East Timor after latest attack on UN personnel.


Following the latest attack on UN personnel in East Timor, Security Council members on Tuesday demanded an immediate halt to the violence and intimidation carried out by militia in the territory.

Council President Ambassador Hasmy Agam of Malaysia said in a press statement that Council members have called on Indonesian authorities to investigate the matter and bring to justice those responsible for the recent attacks on the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). "The members stressed that the Government of Indonesia has the responsibility to maintain peace and security in East Timor," he said.

On Sunday, an armed militia attacked a humanitarian convoy -- which was accompanied by a UNAMET humanitarian affairs officer and a local representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) -- assisting internally displaced persons near Liquica. Several people were injured, UN personnel were directly threatened and shots were fired, UN officials said. The latest incident comes on the heels of two separate events last week in which militia members threw stones at a UN office in Maliana, injuring one UN electoral officer, and surrounded a UN residence in Vikeke.

Earlier Tuesday, UN Assistant Secretary-General Alvaro de Soto told reporters after his briefing to the Council that the latest incident brings out the "rather alarming" security situation that exists in East Timor. He warned that preparations for the UN-sponsored vote in August on the territory's future was in danger of being further delayed.

"It does not augur well for the prospects of the schedule being kept," Mr. de Soto said. "If UN personnel are being attacked and there is this degree of intimidation with only eight regional offices set up, think of the situation once we have to set up around 200 registration points."

Mr. de Soto said the United Nations had no doubts as to the commitment of the Indonesian Government in improving the security situation even though there were still no satisfactory signs the East Timorese were safe to express their wishes freely and that UN personnel were out of danger. "We hope that something will be done very quickly and that it will be reflected on the ground so that these repeated assurances will be materialized," he said.
East Timor

Monday, 5 July 1999

Transcript Of Press Conference By Ian Martin, Special Representative Of The Secretary-General For East Timor

As you know, there was an extremely serious attack yesterday on a humanitarian convoy which was formed by various local non-governmental organizations and was returning from delivering relief supplies and giving urgent medical attention to many thousands of internally displaced people in the Sare area in Liquica regency. Militia on the edge of Liquica town attacked it as it left Liquica town coming towards Dili.

The convoy was largely made up of Timorese NGO representatives.

It was bringing back the displaced people who needed further urgent medical attention and was accompanied by UNAMET's humanitarian affairs officer and the UNHCR representative in East Timor.

Two of our military liaison officers were also with it at the time it was attacked.

The NGOs, through UNAMET, had advised the authorities of this humanitarian convoy and had asked that it be escorted by police for its security because of concerns of militia activity. But, a police escort was not provided although we had renewed that request yesterday morning after knowing that there were militia threats to the convoy on its return. A number of the NGO personnel were injured and one was hospitalized. Six of the Timorese, I think five NGO personnel and one of the refugees, are not yet accounted for. There were no injuries to United Nations personnel.

There were a number of attacks against UNAMET personnel in Liquica before, during and after the attack on the convoy itself. We have withdrawn all UNAMET international staff from Liquica for the moment. They are all safe and in Dili. We will be making a further assessment of the situation there today. I have spoken to the Indonesian Task Force. I have a meeting later this morning with them to obviously express in the strongest possible terms our concern, both as to the attack on local NGOs carrying out important humanitarian work as well as further attacks and threats to UNAMET personnel.

Question & Answer:

Q: Will UNAMET allow journalists to visit the region where this attack took place?

IM: I am not sure when we're going to be able to do that. Certainly, we are extremely concerned for the welfare of the people who were the recipients of this assistance. So, we will do what we can to follow up on their welfare, but I am not sure when and how at the moment we can do that.

Q: Do you think this is a deliberate lack of action on the part of the police?

IM: It certainly is an inexcusable lack of action because the situation in Liquica has been of great concern to us from the time we first started visiting it and then establishing a presence here. We have repeatedly reported to the police the siting of armed militia around Liquica town, as well as the specific menaces to our own personnel.

Q: Last night the Indonesian Police and Ambassador Tarmidzi of the Indonesian Task Force were quite critical of the UN making any association with the convoy. If the UN was just observing, what were they observing, what were they doing?

IM: This was a local NGO convoy not a UNAMET convoy. We have a humanitarian affairs officer within UNAMET sent from the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in New York specifically to assess aspects of the humanitarian situation which are not only important in themselves but they are directly related to UNAMET's core functions. It is our responsibility to assess the security situation and the large numbers of internally displaced people are an important indication of how serious the security situation has been and remains. If we are to carry out an effective registration for the popular consultation, which is our first practical task, then clearly we need to know to what extent there are people who are not in conditions of security in their normal places of residence. So, I don't accept for a moment that it was in any way inappropriate for our humanitarian affairs officer to have been with this convoy.

Q: In relation to the rising violence in Liquica and Viqueque, will you be recommending to the Secretary-General a further delay in the vote?

IM: My recommendation to the Secretary-General will first be made to the Secretary-General, not at a press conference.

Q: What are you doing about the official protest to the Indonesian authorities about the refusal of the police to provide an escort? There was specific information about threats to that convoy which was given to the Indonesian authorities yesterday morning.

IM: We were not requesting a police escort for ourselves, we were conveying a request from the NGOs for an escort. It is not a matter of our being denied an escort. Certainly in my view, part of the law and order responsibility of the Indonesian police should be, and should have been, to ensure that humanitarian assistance could be delivered safely and that their citizens are protected from this kind of attack.

Q: Wouldn't you have liked a UN escort to protect Pat Burgess [humanitarian officer] and the UNHCR personnel…[inaudible]…?

IM: It's really the other way around. If it had been an Indonesian police escort that would have provided security to everybody and would then have been prepared to have Indonesian police accompanied and advised by United Nations CivPol.

Q: [inaudible]

IM: I would certainly recommend that they do that, but the organization of humanitarian relief is indeed not UNAMET's direct responsibility so we can only point what seems to us to be their general responsibility.

Q: What reason was given for not providing a police escort?

IM: I think you have to ask the police that question.

Q: Given the violence, do you think the Indonesian police were unable or unwilling to provide security ..[inaudible]…?

IM: In some places we see quite a serious effort by the police, certainly to provide us with the security we ask for, and indeed to try and improve the security situation more generally. We hadn't seen that in Liquica. Whether that is a failure of will or competence I am not going to say. But, certainly that hasn't happened.

Q: The Police Chief in East Timor has said it was a mistake for the convoy to stop in Liquica knowing the situation in the area. They also suggested that the convoy was asking for trouble.

IM: That sounds to me like a statement that law and order has broken down in Liqiuca and, if so, that clearly is an acknowledgement by the authorities that very serious actions need to be taken.

Q: Are the Besi Merah Putih [Liquica militia group] the main concern to the UN's operation?

IM: It's not easy always to identify exactly what militia group is involved in particular incidents. In Liquica town Besi Merah Putih seems to be the main militia group operating. The attack in our office in Maliana was by a different militia group. And, as you know, there are different militia groups in different places. We are concerned about operations by armed and violent groups of people.

Q: Is there concern that some of these aid groups involved in humanitarian relief are linked to the pro-independence cause?

IM: You will have to ask the Indonesians what their attitude is towards both the NGOs and indeed towards the people they are trying to assist. But what this humanitarian convoy saw were large numbers of internally displaced people in very bad conditions urgently in need of both food and medical attention. One would hope that in any society people would respond to that and be able to respond to that with the protection of the authorities and not under threat.

Q: [inaudible]

IM: There is a tendency to regard those who need relief as pro-independence supporters and not worthy of relief. That I think is quite unacceptable.

Q: Is it true that prior to the incidents this weekend your people in Liquica were under orders to travel only with police escort, and to what degree was that escort provided?

IM: The general instructions to our staff is that they should travel either with a police escort or where there are communications that enable them to report in.

Q: To what degree were they able to effectively function?

IM: In general our electoral staff have been able to carry out work in and around Liquica. There has been some problem about the avaliability of police escorts at times we would like to carry out particular activities. So, it has been a somewhat limiting factor, yes.

Q: Has the United Nations asked for any change in the chain of command to the police in Liquica?

IM: We don't make requests for individual changes in the chain of command. We take the responsibility to the top and it is those at the top who must decide about that.

Q: Will this matter be taken up by Jamsheed Marker or Kofi Annan with the Indonesian Government?

IM: I have spoken to Ambassador Marker who is in Canberra at the moment and initially reported to New York. Mr. Francesc Vendrell, now designated as the Deputy Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, i.e. Deputy to Mr. Marker who arrived in Jakarta yesterday, is meeting the foreign ministry today. He will be taking the matter up in Jakarta as well.

Q: Were there semi-automatic weapons carried by the militia?

IM: I think I want more information before I say with certainty what weapons were being carried. There are a lot of UNAMET personnel who saw different parts of what went on before, during and after this attack. We are quite systematically collecting information for them. So, we will perhaps confirm some other details to you when we have done that. Q: Some of the NGOs have said that in the convoy of militia going out to the Sare area they recognized some police out of uniform with the militia. Are you aware of that and is that something you will be investigating?

IM: I am not aware of that, but certainly we will be getting statements from the aid workers as well as from our own personnel to get a total picture. Q: Are you now ready to conclude on the basis of the series of attacks by militia that this is a coordinated, calculated strategy to disrupt the UN's mission? IM: There is certainly a pattern of incidents and threats from militia to UN personnel as well as activities in a lot of different places. That is a major concern for us. I am not in a position to say whether it's a concerted strategy and who is concerting it. But it is certainly happening in a number of places.

Q: Can you confirm that UN CivPol came under fire as they approached Liquica?

IM: I can certainly confirm that civilian police were threatened and targeted by militia as they were involved in organizing grouping and the evacuation of our staff. Whether shots were fired at them, I am not absolutely certain at the moment. That will be one of the matters that we will try to clarify in our further investigation.

Q: Has the UN attempted to make any approaches to the Besi Merah Putih to try and open a dialogue with them?

IM: I don't think it is the duty of the United Nations to negotiate with groups that are outside the law. It's the responsibility of those who have the security responsibility - the Indonesians - to bring them within the law.

Q: Is there pressure on your part to the Indonesian police to bring about this responsibility?

IM: Certainly.

Q: In what way?

IM: It is featured in almost all our discussions at a senior level with the Task Force and all the other Indonesian authorities from the moment UNAMET began its work.

Q: Is it known what has happened to the trucks that left the day before from Sare?

IM: My understanding is that they arrived back safely in Dili.

Q: Could it be that the lack of insistence in recent weeks for the authorities to investigate and prosecute people involved in this violence has added to a climate of impunity which has contributed to these further attacks?

IM: I am not sure what that lack of insistence is. The Secretary-General in his response to the Maliana attack said quite explicitly that those responsible should be brought to justice. I am happy to repeat that.

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