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    Press Release No:   UNIS/SC/1203
    Release Date:   22 March 2000
    Security Council Briefed on Situation in East Timor
    By Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping

     NEW YORK, 21 March (UN Headquarters) -- The "social peace" of East Timor had been threatened by the prevailing economic and social conditions in that country, Hédi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council in an open briefing this morning on the situation in East Timor.

     That situation was reflected in the very large number of applicants that had responded to the recruitment efforts of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), he said.  A number of efforts were under way to create employment opportunities, including 18 quick impact projects undertaken by UNTAET for the repair of local infrastructure in advance of the World Bank's much larger community empowerment project.  The reconstruction process would take time, however.  In view of the level of destruction in the country, and the exodus of a great number of skilled workers following the tragic events of last year, rehabilitation and reconstruction would be difficult and slow.

     The handover from the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) to UNTAET's military component had been smooth, he went on.  The United Nations force, however, had been tested by increased incursions of pro-autonomy militia members from West Timor.  There had also been a number of cases in which weapons were found on refugees returning from West Timor, causing UNTAET to institute stricter controls.  Concerning the refugee flow, more than 153,000 had returned, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had estimated the return of 50,000 more.

     Following Mr. Annabi’s briefing, speakers this morning welcomed the positive developments in the area, such as the smooth transition from INTERFET to UNTAET, the visit of President Wahid of Indonesia to East Timor, the establishment of the East Timor postal service, and the approval of several regulations.  They agreed, however, that there remained troublesome issues, such as unemployment and rising crime, a slow disbursement of funds, and the increasing incidents of violence by militias.

     The representative of the United Kingdom said that things were moving steadily and inexorably in the right direction towards independence.  Today's briefing and the news of recent weeks, however, had been a reminder of some serious problems, namely, the increasing criminality in East Timor.  He hoped the deployment of the rapid reaction unit would help, as well as the establishment of a police group, which should help UNTAET bring the unofficial security groups under its control.  Of particular concern were the recent outbreaks of violence and the reported evidence of the involvement of Indonesian armed forces.  It must be ensured that promises by the Indonesian Government not to support any residual complicity between the armed forces and militia activity in East Timor would be kept.

     On a similar issue, the representative of France, noting the pledge by the Indonesian authorities to end militia and pro-integrationist activities, wondered whether they were in a position to implement those commitments in the field and strictly monitor the local activities of the militia hierarchy.

     The representative of the Russian Federation also expressed concern at reports of a resurgence of the activities of the pro-integration militia, which had sought to impede the return of refugees.  The speedy, effective resolution of the refugee problem would largely determine the successful handling of current tasks.  The revival of the economy and the establishment of effective governance was also crucial.  He urged the Council to “carefully and regularly” follow all developments.

     Similarly, Council President Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of his country, warned that militia violence had to be controlled.  Closing the camps in border areas was a good place to start.  The deployment of civilian police had been a very positive sign, but the impediments to a more rapid deployment needed to be removed.

     Statements were also made this morning by the representatives of the United States, Canada, Argentina, Netherlands, China, Malaysia, Jamaica, Namibia, and Mali.

     The meeting began at 11:20 a.m. and adjourned at 1:03 p.m.

     Council Work Programme

     The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing on the situation in East Timor from the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi.

     The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) has overall responsibility for the administration of East Timor and is empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority, including the administration of justice.  The UNTAET was established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1272 (1999) of 25 October 1999.

    Briefing by Assistant Secretary-General

     HÉDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the briefing covered the period since Sergio Vieira de Mello’s briefing on 3 February.  Important developments since then had included the signing on 21 February of an agreement between UNTAET and the World Bank concerning a large community empowerment project, and the formal handover of responsibility from the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) to the military component of UNTAET on 23 February.  The economic and social conditions in East Timor had remained the primary concern.  Very high unemployment and high prices continued, threatening “social peace”.  The situation was reflected in the very large number of applicants that had responded to UNTAET’s recruitment efforts.

     He highlighted a number of efforts under way to create employment opportunities, including 18 quick impact projects undertaken by UNTAET for the repair of local infrastructure in advance of the World Bank’s much larger community empowerment project.  While that dealt essentially with the rehabilitation of infrastructure and support for income-generating activities, he said it had also provided for the strengthening of the capacity of sub-districts and villages, through elected representatives, to determine their priorities and manage the implementation of their projects.  Additional projects were being undertaken by bilateral donors.  At the end of February, UNTAET had made regular payments to more than 2,500 civil servants, a number that would grow quickly as a result of the recruitment of new personnel.

     A fast-track programme in education had grown rapidly and now involved some 7,000 teachers, reaching some 130,000 children, he said.  At present, cash contributions to the UNTAET Trust Fund had amounted to just over $23 million, of an estimated $43 million needed for the East Timorese administration in 2000.  During the Indonesian President’s visit, it had been agreed that his Government would facilitate the rebuilding of public records and archives, the return of cultural artifacts, and the reopening of cross-border trade.  The establishment of a land corridor linking the Oecussi enclave to the main part of East Timor had also been agreed.  On 4 March, the Indonesian air carrier Merit had resumed commercial flights between Indonesia and East Timor.  An Australian regional airline had also been operating flights between Dili and Darwin since January.  The President had also confirmed the agreement for UNTAET to establish a liaison office in Capping, West Timor, which had opened today.

     The mission had passed legislation on a number of important matters, which had been approved by the National Consultative Commission, he went on.  Customs and immigration arrangements had been put in place and a border service had been established to administer those arrangements.  A provisional tax regime had been set up, with taxes and duties levied on imports, exports and the domestic production of goods.  Collection of import duties had begun yesterday, and regulations on licensing and supervision of banks, public procurement, and on the organization of the courts had been issued.  With respect to law and order, the number of major incidents had declined.  Law enforcement was still weak, and Timorese communities and groups had, in some cases, attempted to enforce law and order directly.

     Continuing, he said that UNTAET’s civilian police force would number 987 by the end of the week, out of an authorized strength of 1,640.  Yesterday, the first 50 Timorese had been recruited to the newly established Police Assistance Group.  That was an interim measure, pending the development of an indigenous police force.  The Group comprised former local police personnel who would assist the United Nations police, but would have no executive powers.  As for the new East Timor police, the first group of recruits would begin their four-month training course on 27 March.  The UNTAET had issued a regulation establishing a panel of Timorese and foreign judges to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Nearly 300 murder cases, involving 627 victims, were currently under investigation.  The mission was currently negotiating with the Indonesian Government on a cooperation agreement in such cases, including the exchange of evidence and access to witnesses.

     The handover from INTERFET to UNTAET’s military component went smoothly, he said.  However, within a week there were increased incursions of pro- autonomy militia members from West Timor.  In one such incident, on 5 March, a villager was killed and another wounded.  UNTAET troops found a group of five armed men in a house.  One of them was captured and interrogated.  Also, weapons had been found on refugees returning from West Timor.  The UNTAET had instituted stricter controls.

     He said that elements of the Indonesian armed forces continued to tolerate and support the militias in West Timor.  Indonesian authorities, however, had assured UNTAET’s Force Commander and Political Director that stern action would be taken against militia activity.  As of 20 March, 7,310 United Nations troops were deployed in East Timor.  The remaining troops are scheduled to arrive by the end of this month, bringing the total strength to 8,600.  In addition, UNTAET’s military component included 198 military observers.

     Over 153,000 refugees had returned, principally from West Timor, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 50,000 more would wish to return, he continued.  The total refugee population is currently estimated at approximately 100,000.  Primary and secondary movements of returnees are managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  While there had been incidents of violence against returnees, for the most part their return and the re-integration had been generally smooth.

     Persons who had supported autonomy had also been among those who returned, he said.  Joanico Belo, a senior militia leader, had visited Baucau and Los Palos from 9 to 12 March.  He had been well received and had held meetings with local leaders, who had assured him that refugees returning to those areas would be safe, while those accused of crimes would be dealt with in accordance with fair and transparent procedures.

     Six former Timorese members of the Indonesian armed forces had visited Aileu last weekend to discuss the return of 59 former soldiers and their families.  They received assurances that they were welcome, so long as they were returning as East Timorese willing to help in the reconstruction of the country, he said.

     The UNHCR had asked Indonesia to adopt a comprehensive strategy and to allow the refugees to decide whether to return to East Timor or be resettled in Indonesia.  The UNTAET had suggested that Indonesia publicly commit itself to paying the pensions and benefits accrued by those East Timorese who had worked for the Indonesian civil service, even if they return to East Timor.

     He said that Mr. Vieira de Mello will visit Jakarta next week to follow up on bilateral issues, including the security situation at the border with West Timor.  As East Timor moved towards independence, UNTAET was focusing on objective benchmarks that would have to be achieved, rather than trying to establish a fixed timetable.  That was a complex and politically sensitive undertaking, that would involve close consultation with the East Timorese.

     Mr. Vieira de Mello had reported that those consultations already had begun in an informal manner.

     NOTE: Summarized statements are available upon specific request. Please contact 260 60 - 3336

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