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Timor-Leste: UN arrives to assess need for mission

Timor-Leste: UN envoy arrives to assess need for beefed-up UN mission after violence

Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for Timor-Leste arrived on the ground today to assess the need for a possible increased United Nations presence after violence tore through the small South-East Asian nation that the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago.

Ian Martin, a UN veteran of Timor-Leste’s struggle for independence, told reporters on his arrival at Dili airport that he would do “anything I can during these next two weeks to assist in the resolution of the present crisis,” which has been attributed to differences between eastern and western regions.

The crisis erupted 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.

Mr. Martin said the size of a new UN mission would be decided by the Security Council on the basis of recommendations from Mr. Annan, who told reporters last week he foresaw a strengthened operation in Timor-Leste.

He is expected to meet with leaders of all sides of the Timorese political spectrum, religious and civic organizations and UN country team members.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned today after several days of political demonstrations. As demonstrators poured into Dili, the capital, Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in the country, Sukehiro Hasegawa, asked political leaders to ensure that their followers restrained themselves from any behaviour that might result in violence.

Mr. Hasegawa telephoned the leadership as thousands of demonstrators circled the town in trucks and on motor cycles loudly supporting some members of the leadership while condemning others.

“The leaders of political parties have the responsibility to restrain their followers from engaging in any act of violence, as they exercise their freedom to assemble and the right to demonstrate in public,” Mr. Hasegawa said.

He added that he had received assurances from Mr. Alkatiri that he had instructed his supporters to stay away from opposing demonstrators. President Xanana Gusmão’s office also gave assurances that the Timorese will continue to exercise peacefully their right to freedom of expression.

The Joint Task Force made up of Australian, New Zealand, Portuguese and Malaysian troops and police invited in by the Government took measures to ensure that the demonstrators remain separated.

The world body first 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. Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan's Special Representative there at the time.

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).

On the humanitarian front the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that food supplies and other support items were sent to the camps despite the disruption of traffic by the demonstrators. Assessment teams have been sent out to outlying districts to determine the needs of displaced persons.

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