Dili, 16 May 2002


With just four days until East Timor becomes independent, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello travelled to Lospalos district this morning to farewell the first Battalion of the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).

The SRSG inspected the 600-strong battalion and expressed his admiration for the smooth transformation of Falintil into a national defence force.

“East Timor’s future success as a nation will depend upon the maintenance of a secure and stable environment in which the people of East Timor can fulfill their aspirations, and you have a very important role to play in that task,” the SRSG said.

“I have every confidence that you, members of the ETDF, will remain committed to upholding the principle of subordination to the civilian government as one of the pillars of democratic government,” the SRSG added.

The first ETDF Battalion deployed to Lospalos at the beginning of this year following the departure of the Korean Battalion from the district, and has since been conducting collective training in readiness for the eventual transfer of operational responsibilities for the defence and security of East Timor to them by the UN peacekeeping force expected in 2004.

The SRSG was accompanied at the farewell ceremony by ETDF Commander Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak, Secretary of State for Defence Roque Rodrigues, East Timor Police Service Commissioner Paulo Martins and UN Assistant Secretary-General Hedi Annabi.

Both Rogrigues and Matan Ruak paid tribute to the leadership of the SRSG over the past two and a half years and the support he has given the ETDF during the transitional period.

Upon his return to Dili this afternoon, the SRSG met with President-elect Xanana Gusmão to symbolically hand over the keys to his office at the Government headquarters building in Dili.

Representatives of the peacekeeping force in East Timor are scheduled to farewell the SRSG with a parade in Dili tomorrow morning, after which Vieira de Mello will in turn meet with members of UNTAET’s civilian staff to thank them for their contributions over the course of the mission.

Vieira de Mello is scheduled to leave East Timor on 21 May and will be replaced as SRSG by Kamalesh Sharma, the former permanent representative of India to the United Nations.