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Timor-Leste making good progress, more help needed

Timor-Leste making good progress but still needs help, UN envoy says

Timor-Leste has made tremendous progress in governing itself in the 17 months that the United Nations has been helping the newly independent country, but serious problems of security, order and economic transformation remain, the top UN envoy in the country said today.

In an open briefing to the Security Council on the work of the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), Kamalesh Sharma listed areas in which Timor-Leste would need help from the international community for some time. They included national security, policing, establishing a competent judiciary and modernizing the economy.

Timor-Leste gained its independence in May 2002 and UNMISET's already extended mandate ends on 20 May 2004.

New laws were about to be passed that would bolster investor confidence and strengthen economic growth. "Still, transforming an agrarian and largely subsistence economy into a market economy generating job creation and entrepreneurial capacities will be a challenge for decades to come," said Mr. Sharma, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Timor-Leste.

The security problems stemmed from the lack of experience and inadequate training of the national police force, delays in setting up a strong judiciary and the presence of armed, possibly criminal groups in districts bordering Indonesia, he said. Some 850 murders would not have been solved by May 2004, he added.

"While there have been no major security challenges over the past six months, reports persist of alleged sightings of armed groups by residents in rural areas and of the presence of criminal elements in those areas, particularly in the border districts," Mr. Sharma said. "There is a risk that these may arise as downsizing advances."

In urban areas, the public perception of security was negatively affected by sporadic violence from martial arts groups and youth gangs, he said.

The police force (PNTL) occasionally had used excessive force and "needs to mature and develop, without being continually tested," he added. "Ensuring that police abide by human rights standards and maintain professional standards is a priority."

Meanwhile, the Timorese leadership, assessing the major problems remaining, "have clearly indicated to me the centrality of the requirement of a continued UN presence to provide both psychological assurance and substantive support in the immediate post-UNMISET period," Mr. Sharma said.

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