Press Releases

Note to Correspondents

Note No 189
15 May 2002

20 MAY 2002:
INDEPENDENCE DAY FOR EAST TIMOR

VIENNA, 15 May (UN Information Service) -- "History was about to confound the sceptics who had thought it improbable that East Timor would become a viable State in two-and-a half years", UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council recently during an emotional welcome for the elected leaders of the people of East Timor - President-elect Xanana Gusmao and Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Since the tragic events of September 1999, which followed the democratic decision of the East Timorese people to seek independence, the United Nations has been working hard to build a sustainable national administration, in close partnership with Member States and, most importantly, with the East Timorese themselves.

On 20 May 2002 the transition of East Timor from a Non-Self-Governing Territory through a United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) to an independent state will be successfully concluded. Members of the UN Security Council noted with satisfaction that UNTAET developed to a mission fully meeting its mandate, namely to provide security and maintain law and order throughout the territory of East Timor; to establish an effective administration; to assist in the development of civil and social services; to ensure the co-ordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and development assistance; to support capacity-building for self-government; and to assist in the establishment of conditions for sustainable development.

The major achievements UNTAET and all its partners have made possible since that time is firstly the establishment of peace and security in East Timor. Other major achievements of the UNTAET are:

  • Addressing humanitarian needs by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, which were all instrumental, together with UNTAET, in ensuring that humanitarian needs were met quickly after the violence of 1999. Over 193,000 refugees, one-quarter of the population, have since returned to East Timor.
  • Registering of 737,811 people, virtually the entire population currently living in East Timor (excluding the refugees in West Timor), over a three-month period for the elections to the constituent Assembly.
  • Holding free, fair and completely peaceful elections on 30 August 2001 which resulted in an 88-member Constituent Assembly now in the process of writing East Timor’s first Constitution. On 14 April 2002 East Timor went to the polls to elect a president. The winner of this election, Xanana Gusmao, will be the first democratically elected head of state for the world’s newest country.
  • Creating the East Timor Defence Force, with 600 soldiers who have undergone basic training; and establishing the East Timor Police Service, with more than 1,300 East Timorese Police Officers deployed in all 13 districts.
  • Establishing a functioning judicial and legal system, including an East Timorese Prosecutor General’s Office and a Defender Service; 3 District Courts; a Court of Appeals, and prisons in Dili, Baucau and Ermera.
  • Rehabilitating schools throughout the country. More than 700 primary schools, 100 junior secondary schools, 40 pre-schools and 10 technical colleges are now teaching approximately 240,000 children and older students.
  • Initializing an agreement with Australia on oil and gas reserves, the Timor Sea Arrangement; commencing in 2004, which has the potential to provide East Timor with billions in revenue over the following 20 years.
  • Establishing of a Small Enterprises Project to help restart viable economic activities in the private sector. This has helped create an entrepreneurial class while generating employment in urban areas.

Recognising the need to sustain the achievements of the past two and a half years in East Timor, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended a continued United Nations presence for two years after the territory’s independence in May. In a report to the Security Council released on 23 April 2002 at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General proposes the creation of a UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) to succeed the current UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET), which will conclude its mandate on 20 May when the territory declares its independence.

Outlining UNMISET’s mandate and structure, the Secretary-General says the new Mission will focus on the key areas of stability, democracy and justice; internal security and law enforcement; and external security and border control. To enable UNMISET to provide crucial assistance for the stability of East Timor and the viability of its emergent public administration Annan proposes that international experts in a "Civilian Support Group" be assigned to aid their Timorese counterparts in about 100 core functions of government administration as well as the conduct of serious crimes investigations and proceedings.

"The UNMISET mandate implementation plan establishes milestones that will allow the Security Council to monitor the achievement of the mission’s goals," the Secretary-General emphasised. "The objectives are realistic and achievable, but they cannot be realised by UNMISET alone. Member States that are in a position to lend the necessary support, and have the means to do so, should demonstrate their continued commitment to this cause."

The road to independence:

  • The United Nations General Assembly placed East Timor on the international agenda in 1960, when it added the territory to its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. At that time, East Timor was administered by Portugal. Fourteen years later, in 1974, Portugal sought to establish a provisional government and a popular assembly, which would determine the status of East Timor. Civil war broke out between those who favoured independence and those who advocated integration with Indonesia. Unable to control the situation, Portugal withdrew. Indonesia then intervened militarily and later integrated East Timor as its 27th province. The United Nations never recognised this integration, and both the Security Council and the General Assembly called for Indonesia’s withdrawal.
  • Beginning in 1982, at the request of the General Assembly, successive Secretaries-General held regular talks with Indonesia and Portugal aimed at resolving the status of the territory. In June 1998, Indonesia proposed a limited autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia. In light of this proposal, the talks made rapid progress and resulted in a set of agreements between Indonesia and Portugal, signed in New York on 5 May 1999. The two Governments entrusted the Secretary-General with organising and conducting a "popular consultation" in order to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accepted or rejected a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia.
  • To carry out the consultation, the Security Council established the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) on 11 June 1999. The 5 May agreements stipulated that, after the vote, UNAMET would oversee a transition period pending implementation of the decision of the East Timorese people. On 19 October 1999, the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly formally recognised the result of the consultation. Shortly thereafter, on 25 October, the United Nations Security Council by resolution 1272 (1999), established the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence.

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