Cablegate: The United Nations in Timor-Leste: Looking Back and Forward

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R 100859Z DEC 09



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1. (SBU) Summary: In a private, valedictory interview, Special
Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Timor-Leste
Atul Khare provided the following, useful assessment of UNMIT's
accomplishments over the last few years and the significant
challenges that lie ahead. His self-serving comments highlight
UNMIT's contributions towards maintaining peace and stability,
but gloss over its failure to rebuild a credible, professional
police force. With the United Nations now poorly positioned to
provide effective support on continued security sector reform,
Khare correctly highlights the need for UNMIT to place a higher
priority on supporting democratic governance and socio-economic
development in the coming years. End Summary.

UNMIT Accomplishments


2. (SBU) Looking backwards at his three-year tenure as the
Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Timor
Leste, Atul Khare listed three primary accomplishments of the
United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). First, UNMIT was
instrumental in helping to restore stability and security to the
country after the violent clashes in 2006. Second, UNMIT has
helped the Timorese leadership earn the faith and confidence of
its own people and the international community. Finally,
UNMIT's efforts have contributed to a fundamental desire on the
part of the Timorese body politics to be in conformity with
laws, regulations, and democratic norms.

3. (SBU) Implicit in SRSG Khare's remarks was the fact that the
2006 crisis represented a major setback for the development of
Timor-Leste and that much of the work over the last three years
has been to address the aftermath and challenges that it
created. As a result of the crisis, SRSG Khare notes, the
international community saw Timor-Leste as a `failing,' if not a
`failed' state. The restoration of stability, confidence in the
Timorese leadership, and a desire to strengthen democratic norms
has successfully reversed that impression.

4. (SBU) SRSG Khare points to a few specific examples that
illustrate the progress. First, the country's response to the
February 2008 attacks on the President and Prime Minister
demonstrated the ability of the various political factions to
forge a consensus and coordinate an appropriate response on
issues of national interest. Second, the parliamentary debate
in October of a censure motion in response to the GOTL's
handling of the Martenus Bere case demonstrated that the
increased importance that Timorese politicians and leaders
attach to democratic institutions and processes. SRSG Khare
noted that there will always be crises, but the challenge is to
strengthen the mechanisms to manage such crises and to use them,
when possible, as opportunities to build social cohesion.

National Challenges Ahead


5. (SBU) Despite these accomplishments, however, SRSG Khare
frankly admitted that Timor-Leste and UNMIT continue to face a
number of serious challenges in the years ahead. One set of
challenges lies in the area of consolidating democracy.
Elections, institutions, and laws are not enough. Timorese lack
a public understanding of the significance of independence,
democracy, elections, and democratic institutions. In fact, the
Timorese state simply does not exist in much of the country.
There is a continued lack of faith in the rule of law and the
Timorese authorities have not developed a practical means by
which to incorporate the long-standing institutions of
traditional justice into their formal judicial system.
Establishing civilian control, professionalization, and the
delineation of roles of the security forces is incomplete.
Finally, managing the transfer of responsibility from the
current generation of leaders to the next generation will be

6. (SBU) Another set of challenges, of course, is economic and
is shared by most lesser-developed countries. Despite
Timor-Leste's petroleum fund and modest oil revenues and even

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assuming double-digit annual growth rates, the country will
remain impoverished for at least the next ten years and more.
Timorese leaders have not yet come to grips with how the country
will integrate with the global economy. Low social capacity can
only be addressed by significant investments in education, and
particularly `life skills' or practical vocational training.
SRSG Khare noted disparagingly that there are 26 universities in
Dili (there should be perhaps two) and that despite a wide range
of business management courses, no training is offered to
develop agricultural skills (despite the fact that 85 percent of
the population survives on subsistence agriculture).

7. (SBU) A final set of challenges lies in the area of promoting
social cohesion and a sense of national identity. SRSG Khare
admitted that the inter-regional tensions that flared during the
2006 crisis have been only `superficially addressed.' He added
that the political parties have little incentive to address this
problem because they actually `gain' from such differences and
draw political support from specific regions. SRSG Khare noted
that although some Timorese leaders have begun to reassess their
history in an effort to develop a sense of national identity,
there has not yet been a broad public discourse on the subject.
SRSG Khare suggested, moreover, that those who led the country
to independence may not necessarily be the best ones to lead an
independent country.

Reinventing UNMIT


8. (SBU) Asked how UNMIT's mission would have to change in the
coming years, SRSG Khare said that while the overall objectives
would remain the same, the priorities should shift.
Specifically, he listed the main objectives in the following
order of importance:

A) Strengthening the culture of democratic governance

B) Promoting socio-economic development

C) Establishing rule of law, including traditional justice and
regularizing land claims and property rights

D) Continued security sector reform and development

9. (SBU) SRSG Khare noted that the handover of policing
responsibilities will continue, although the Timorese police
(PNTL) would continue to need considerable bilateral assistance
and professional training for years to come. The UNPOL presence
would likely decline to only two formed police units (FPU) by
the 2012 elections and could leave altogether if those elections
go smoothly. As the Mission decreases in size, however,
staffing dedicated to the top three priorities listed above
should maintain their current levels.

Appeal for Continued U.S. Engagement


10. (SBU) SRSG Khare made a personal appeal for continued USG
engagement in Timor-Leste, arguing that in addition to the our
moral responsibility to this country, Timor-Leste's success or
failure will have significant implications for the United States
and the international community. Specifically, if Timor-Leste
succeeds, it will be an excellent example to the world that
democracy, human rights, and rule of law are as important to
lesser-developed countries as they are to developed countries.
If it fails, however, Timor-Leste's strategic location between a
stable ASEAN and a prosperous Australia may make it a transit
point and safe haven for narcotics, human smuggling, organized
crime, and international terrorists. SRSG Khare noted that the
United States is uniquely positioned in Timor-Leste to serve as
an important bilateral partner and a genuine honest broker
between Timor-Leste and the various bilateral partners and
international donors here.

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11. (SBU) SRSG Khare departs Timor-Leste on December 11, 2009.
He is credited by Timorese and international partners alike for
his tireless effort to improve and institutionalize effective
communication and consultation among Timorese leaders and key
state institutions. His work, and that of his mission,
contributed critically to the reestablishment of peace and
security following the 2006 crisis and the successful holding of
several national elections in 2007 and 2009. Less successful
has been UNMIT's reconstitution of the Timorese police, and many
Timorese fault Khare for failing to effectively lead the large
UNPOL force viewed locally often as undisciplined and
insensitive to Timorese customs and aspirations. Among Timorese
leaders too often inclined towards impunity, Khare's consistent
and outspoken support of human rights and the rule of law no
doubt generated considerable discomfort. In sum, Khare leaves
respected, if a bit unloved. He also leaves behind the major
task of drawing down the UN PKO in a way that maintains
stability and begins to repair the organization's bruised
reputation among the Timorese public.

© Scoop Media

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