29 March 2010 The National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL), which was set up by the United Nations in the wake of the country's vote for independence, has celebrated its 10th anniversary, making it one of the oldest institutions in the fledgling South-East Asian nation.
Parades and activities were held in the capital, Dili, on Saturday to mark the first decade of existence of the PNTL, established on 27 March 2000 by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), set up to assist the country during its transition to independence in 1999.
“The continued development of the professionalism of the national police service is an essential element to a peaceful, stable Timor-Leste, where citizens can have trust in the rule of law,” Ameerah Haq, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, said, following a ceremony attended by Government officials and diplomats.
The UN has been handing over policing responsibilities to Timor-Leste as part of the gradual transfer of the security functions it assumed in 2006 after dozens of people were killed and 155,000 others – or about 15 per cent of the population – were driven from their homes in an eruption of violence in the newly independent country.
The current UN peacekeeping mission in the country, or UNMIT, was set up in 2006 to replace several earlier missions, including UNTAET, in the county that the world body shepherded to independence in 2002. It currently comprises nearly 1,500 UN Police (UNPOL) from 38 countries.
The mission is working closely with the PNTL to set the stage for its resumption of full responsibility over Timor-Leste, Ms. Haq noted. “But this remains a careful process, to be implemented applying the criteria agreed with the Government and in a step-by step-manner.”
The PNTL has already resumed responsibility over the Police Intelligence Service, the Police Training Centre and the Maritime Unit, as well as four districts. Three additional districts will be handed over in the coming weeks.
Also attending the Saturday ceremony was Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, who praised the police force for its community-based approach. “This means that a police member must be well-integrated in the local community? in permanent contact with the populations that he is responsible to keep safe.”
Last month, Ms. Haq told the Security Council in New York that although Timor-Leste has made “remarkable progress” since the violence that disrupted it in 2006, the long-term goals of recovery and development may prove even more challenging.
“Timor-Leste has reached a new stage, where there is an intensified focus on measures needed to sustain stability, deepen democracy and the rule of law, reduce poverty and strengthen institutions,” she said.
The Special Representative pointed to the possibility of the country's greatest long-term challenges lying in the socio-economic realm, citing the need to fight poverty, hunger, maternal and infant mortality, and improve access to health care and education. “It is essential that the Government redouble its effort to ensure that development benefits are felt equally in rural and urban areas,” she added.
Also last month, the 15-member Council voted to extend the mandate of UNMIT by an additional year until 26 February 2011.
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