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Timor-Leste: UN envoy broadcasts unity appeal

Timor-Leste: UN envoy broadcasts unity appeal to nation in wake of violence

The top United Nations envoy in Timor-Leste sought to avert further unrest there today, broadcasting an appeal to the people to unite after violence attributed to differences between eastern and western areas tore through the small South-East Asian nation that the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.

“Remain resilient to any efforts to divide your people along regional or ethnic lines,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Sukehiro Hasegawa warned. “Maintaining national unity is paramount.”

Mr. Annan himself spokes by telephone to both President Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, his spokesperson said in New York.

The moves were the latest development in the crisis that broke out in late April with the dismissal of 600 soldiers, a third of the armed forces. Ensuing violence cost at least 37 lives and drove some 145,000 people, about 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes into makeshift camps.

“You, the Timorese people, have to defend your hard-won freedom and your so recently gained independence,” Mr. Hasegawa said, pledging continued UN support. “You need to continue striving towards true nationhood and do not let anyone take you off that path. The international community stands ready to assist the Timorese in this task with a view to restoring peace and security in the country.”

An international force provided by Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal at the Government’s request is currently helping to maintain order, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters yesterday he foresaw a strengthened UN mission. His Special Envoy Ian Martin is leaving with an assessment team tonight to discuss the issue with the authorities.

The world body set up the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 following the country’s vote for independence from Indonesia, which had taken over after the end of Portugal’s colonial rule in 1974. This robust structure was kept until independence in 2002, when UNTAET was replaced with a downsized operation, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). This in turn was succeeded by the current, even smaller UN office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).

The unrest has raised questions over whether the Security Council had downsized the UN operations too soon. “The road to nationhood can be full of obstacles,” Mr. Hasegawa said in his broadcast today. “However, do not lose heart! The United Nations will remain committed to assist Timor-Leste until this young democratic state stands firmly on its own feet.”

On the humanitarian side, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that a second wave of relief supplies bound is due to get underway early next week, with a chartered aircraft carrying 63 tonnes of lightweight tents, plastic sheeting and blankets from Amman, Jordan.

A further consignment of 71 tonnes are expected to be shipped from UNHCR’s regional stockpile in Dubai, bringing the total supplied so far to 353 tonnes, with 1,700 tents distributed to some 20 sites in Dili, the capital, and surrounding areas. Some 17,000 blankets and 2,000 plastic sheets have also been distributed together with kitchen equipment.

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