Top UN official in Timor-Leste praises calm response to violence report

20 October 2006 – Despite fears of violence after the release this week of a United Nations report into recent strife in Timor-Leste, the response so far has been “overwhelmingly positive” and calm in the tiny nation where deadly conflict attributed to differences between eastern and western regions erupted in April, the top UN official in the country said today.

“In the three days since release of the report of the Independent Special Commission of Inquiry Timor-Leste has been calm. Indeed very few incidents have been reported,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Acting Special Representative Finn Reske-Nielsen told a news conference in Dili, capital of the small South East Asian nation.

“In general, and despite only a few dissenting voices, the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I am very encouraged by, and appreciative of, the statement by the President, Prime Minister, and Parliamentary Speaker commending the Commission on its wisdom, impartiality and independence.”

Mr. Reske-Nielsen said he had also received similar support from other high-level officials, as well as separate remarks by Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta “stressing the importance of judicial follow-up on the report’s recommendations.”

Among other findings, the Commission, which was requested by Timor-Leste’s Government, found that although Chief of Defence Force Taur Matan Ruak cannot be held criminally responsible for the shooting of unarmed police officers by defence force soldiers, he failed to exhaust all avenues to prevent or stop a confrontation.

It also found that former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri failed to use his authority to denounce the transfer of security sector weapons to civilians in the face of credible information that such transfer was ongoing and involved members of the Government.

The crisis, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, erupted after the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces, with the ensuing violence claiming at least 37 lives and driving 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.

The Security Council created the expanded UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in August to help restore order in the country that it shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago, and one of its key aspects is bringing in UN police officers to rebuild and support the local force.

Saying that the last three days have registered the “lowest recorded violence in the recent past,” UNMIT Acting Police Commissioner Antero Lopes told reporters there were now more police on the streets in Dili and its outlying districts and operations would expand further in the weeks ahead.

“So by the end of this month, UN Pol (UN Police) and PNTL (the national police force) together will be more than 1,000. That is indeed a milestone, and by early November we will be in a condition to start expanding to the other districts in Timor-Leste,” he said.

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