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Timor-Leste: UN officials meet party leaders

Timor-Leste: UN officials meet party leaders in effort to resolve crisis

The top two United Nations officials in Timor-Leste today met with the leaders of all registered political parties as they continued their efforts to calm tensions after two months of unrest in the small South-East Asian nation that the world body shepherded to independence from Indonesia four years ago.

The meeting, at the headquarters of the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), was hosted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy Ian Martin, who is also planning for a possibly increased UN presence to help resolve the crisis, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions.

Violence, which erupted in late April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces, has claimed at least 37 lives and driven 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes to seek shelter in makeshift campsites and with host families. Demonstrations have continued over the past two weeks.

Mr. Annan’s Special Representative Sukehiro Hasegawa attended today’s meeting together with the leaders of the ruling Fretilin party and the heads of all the opposition parties.

The world body first set up the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 after the country voted for independence from Indonesia, which had taken it over at the end of Portugal’s colonial rule in 1974. Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in the territory then.

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), which has a mandate through 20 August.

The Security Council has asked Mr. Annan to report back on an expanded UN presence by early August. At present, a joint Task Force made up of Australian, New Zealand, Portuguese and Malaysian forces invited in by the Government is helping to restore calm.

On the humanitarian side, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that the Flash Appeal for Timor-Leste had received contributions or pledges of $15.3 million or 78 per cent of the call for $19.6 million.

On the ground this translates into urgently needed aid in the displaced persons’ camps, ranging from food for undernourished children to blankets to keep warm at night.

In a makeshift camp near the village of Moto Kiik in the foothills east of Dili, the capital, 81-year-old Moniz Alves received a blanket from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “I will use this blanket to help keep warm at night,” said Alves, who spent three months in the hills during the violence that marred Timor’s vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

While members of the UNHCR emergency response team find the nights pleasantly warm after the heat of the day, locals say it is chilly after darkness falls. UNHCR has delivered an initial consignment of 270 blankets for children and the elderly in the camp.

Later this week a container ship carrying tents, plastic sheeting and 15,000 blankets for UNHCR is due to arrive in Dili from Australia. UNHCR has already distributed 2,045 tents, 3,284 plastic sheets, 17,490 blankets, 1,694 jerry cans, 191 stoves and 298 kitchen sets.

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