EAST TIMOR DECLARED INDEPENDENT AT STROKE OF MIDNIGHT
Tens of thousands of East Timorese gathered at a massive site near the capital Dili last night to celebrate the birth of their new nation.
“Your identity as an independent people will be recognized by the whole world. I still recall the day, forty-five years ago, when my own country Ghana attained its independence. Tonight, I am as excited as I was then,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a speech during the final minutes of the UN’s two-and-a-half-year Transitional Administration.
“At this moment, we honour every citizen of East Timor who persisted in the struggle for independence. We also remember the many who are no longer with us – but who dreamed of this moment. It is their day, too,” the Secretary-General added.
Proceedings at Taci Tolu, on the outskirts of Dili, began at 6 pm with a three-hour mass presided over by Dili Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo. The mass was followed by a wide array of elaborate cultural events.
After Kofi Annan’s speech the United Nations flag was lowered as singer Barbara Hendricks sang a song dedicated to freedom. Six former members of Falintil then carried the East Timorese flag to the stage and presented it to members of the new East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).
The ETDF raised the flag after Parliament President Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres declared East Timor’s birth as an independent nation. Lu-Olo then proceeded to swear-in Xanana Gusmão as East Timor’s new president.
Gusmão – the landslide winner of the 14 April Presidential election – then gave an emotional address to his nation.
“Today we are a people standing on equal footing with all other people in the world. On the celebration of independence, we wish to take upon ourselves this commitment before you: to work solely and exclusively for our people,” Gusmão said.
“East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and we wish to raise, gradually but steadily, the quality of life of our population. Our independence will have no value if all the people in [East Timor] continue to live in poverty and continue to suffer all kinds of difficulties. We gained our independence to improve our lives,” the President added.
Representatives of more than 90 countries attended the independence event, including Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, Indonesian Prime Minister Megawati Sukarnoputri, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and former US President Bill Clinton.
Later this morning the Government of East Timor will be sworn in, and the National Parliament – elected in August 2001 to draft a Constitution – will hold its inaugural session. This afternoon the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Nations (CPLP) will hold an extraordinary summit in Dili.
SECRETARY-GENERAL PLEDGES FUTURE UN COMMITTMENT
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday pledged that the UN would remain deeply committed to East Timor after the fledgling nation’s independence.
Following is a full transcript of remarks made by the Secretary-General at a press conference upon his arrival in Dili.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin by saying how very happy I am to be back in East Timor. In less than 12 hours, East Timor will be an independent country, a moment of pride and liberation.
This moment belongs above all to the people of East Timor who have so richly earned their freedom. For the United Nations, and for me personally, it is a wonderful achievement that shows just how we can achieve a lot if the United Nations works hand-in-hand with the national community and its international partners.
When I first visited East Timor in February 2000, UNTAET, led by my Special Representative Sergio [Vieira] de Mello, had just started the immense task of helping the East Timorese to rebuild their country. Today, two-and-a-half years later, East Timor has a Government, a Parliament, a President-elect, and a judicial system. Children are going to school [and] the people of East Timor have reason to believe in a better future. The East Timorese, with the assistance of the United Nations and the international community, have made great progress over the past few years, but much work lies ahead.
The United Nations will continue to support an independent East Timor, and I strongly urge the international community to do the same. Only by doing so can we ensure lasting stability and progress. Today East Timor is ready to join the family of nations as a free and democratic country. But democracy and development need nurturing, by the East Timorese themselves and by the international community. The challenge continues and we must all remain focused on enabling the East Timorese people to feel a steady improvement in their daily lives.
I am delighted that the Government and the Parliament of East Timor, as well as civil society, are now ready to assume the responsibilities of leadership. I look forward to working with them in the future.
I will now take your questions.
Q: What is your perspective on the future of the East Timorese nation?
A: As I have indicated we are going to remain engaged and we are going to work in support of the new government. You also realize that the UN is not leaving. We are establishing a new mission which will stay here and offer technical assistance and advice and work for the government…and we will work hand in glove with the new government and appeal to the international community to remain engaged and to work with us. So for us this is not the end of the road, we are not saying goodbye. It’s a new beginning and we will be here to work with the government.
Q: Has the Indonesian justice system been credible in handling prosecutions relating to the violence in East Timor in 1999?
A: Well, I’ve just come from Jakarta, and I had the chance to discuss this issue with the Government and discuss the need for us to look at some of the approaches that have been adopted. I offered UN technical assistance for us to push the process forward, and I think the Indonesian government realizes that it does have a responsibility to try those who have been accused of wrongdoing in the process of independence, and also the fact that the international community is keeping a close eye on it, and so let’s work with them to press the issue forward. If your question is ‘Is the international community ready now to establish an independent international tribunal?’ or ‘Have we concluded that one should be established today?’, no, we have not come to that conclusion.
Q: The people of West Papua have petitioned your office for a referendum like the one that East Timor had to vote for their freedom from Indonesia. Are you aware of this petition and will West Papua get the chance for independence like East Timor?
A: I am aware of the press reports [and] also the demands from some people in West Papua as you indicated, but let’s be clear. East Timor is a unique case. East Timor was not originally a part of Indonesia, and the Indonesian constitution itself says that the territory of Indonesia will be the territory of the former Dutch colony. We have heard of the reports that you have indicated, and what we have done is ask the Indonesian government to ensure that the citizens and people of all regions have a say in the affairs of state…The UN respects the territorial integrity of Indonesia and we are not going to take any steps that will be seen as breaking up the country. So we should not be expected to create several East Timors out of Indonesia. That is not our objective. East Timor was a unique case.
Q: On the Indonesian justice process relating to the 1999 violence in East Timor
A: First of all the process is being managed by the Indonesian authorities and as I said I had the chance to discuss this issue with them very clearly when I passed through Jakarta. We have also raised the question of the minimum sentences that have been given to even those who have been convicted…I am not in a position to discuss or to indicate which individuals should be indicted. I think that evidence and justice must follow its course. And if the seven people you named need to actually be indicted, and if there is evidence they should be indicted, then I think our main [inaudible]. But the process has been in Indonesian hands.
Q (in Tetum): Can you speak about East Timor’s relations with its two big neighbours, Indonesia and Australia, and do you support the Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation?
A: I think on the question of your relations with your neighbours, I believe East Timor is off to a good start. It is important that East Timor has good relations with Indonesia, with Australia, and all the neighbors in the region. And I am also happy that East Timor has indicated its determination and willingness to join ASEAN. And from my discussions with ASEAN countries, we are going to work and make East Timor happen. And I think once you’ve developed good neighbourly relations, you need not have to rely so much on the military to keep your border. There has to be cooperation between the countries and the neighbours, and from the indications I have had, this is going to be possible with Indonesia and with Australia. And of course, as I’ve also indicated, the draw down of the UN forces will be gradual.
With regards to the Truth Commission, I think it’s an important step. I think it’s important that we hear the truth and find out what happened and who did what, even if some of the people will be amnestied. We need to get that out, and I think, as I said, many countries including South Africa and some of the central African countries have clearly worked, and I think this is going to be a positive development.
Q: How best can you engage Indonesia in the war against terror?
A: In Jakarta we did discuss this issue and the help that’s been given by countries in the region to work together against terrorism. And in fact the President told me that other countries have indicated that they will join the three initial countries that came together to pool their efforts, and they are determined to work not only in this region but internationally to cooperate with others, and gave me the assurances that they will implement the Security Council resolutions on this issue. But of course what is clear is that to defeat terrorism there has to be international cooperation; governments have to work together, share information, and be determined not to have terrorists given any support. [Inaudible].
Q: Yesterday, Indonesia violated the UN’s authority in East Timor by sending six warships to East Timor’s waters without authorization. Have you rendered any complaint to Indonesia about their warships entering Timorese territorial waters?
A: First of all I think there was a hiccup and a misunderstanding that we should not blow out of proportion. In fact, when I was in Jakarta I was posed the question [saying that I had] these difficulties. I said yes, there are difficulties, and now President Megawati has taken the conciliatory, wise and courageous decision to attend the Independence Celebrations and whatever difficulties have existed would be wiped out. And that is what precisely has happened, and I don’t think we should blow this out of proportion, and we are all satisfied with the arrangements, as they exist now. And Indonesia has accepted the arrangements, that there will be a very limited number of troops. One ship has docked, and we have no problems with that.
Q: Do you think that what has happened in East Timor might be a catalyst for Burma?
A: We’ve been encouraging the government in Burma to reconcile within the country and also work effectively with the opposition parties. We are pleased that [Aung San Suu Kyi] is free and will continue the dialogue with the government. And I believe that the process for democracy in Myanmar is irreversible, and I hope that it will be accelerated.
Q: For how long is the UN support to East Timor going to continue?
A: I think as far as military presence is concerned, we’ll probably be here for another 18 months to two years or so when we will completely withdraw. But that does not mean that our involvement and assistance and support to East Timor will end. Even after that I expect the UN agencies, the UN development agencies, UNDP, UNICEF, the World Bank, FAO, all of them, will continue their work for the indefinite future. So we will be around for quite a while. I hope you are not in a hurry to get rid of us!
Q: Upon its independence, East Timor will be one of the poorest countries in the world. About what areas of development are you the most concerned?
A: I think in the past we have been very active trying to focus on rebuilding the infrastructure, trying to get health services and education back. And I think we should focus on health and education to build a healthy and dynamic workforce that will also be able to be supported. I think we should not overlook the agricultural sector, and we are also looking at projects that will create jobs. And of course tourism has also been mentioned. But down the line we are looking to the gas and the oil industry to provide sufficient revenue and jobs to the people of East Timor.
Q: Is there going to be an international tribunal if the ad hoc tribunal in Indonesia fails?
A: That was the understanding at the beginning when we made it clear that it was the responsibility of Indonesia to put the accused on trial and organize a credible trial – and if they failed, then the international community will decide if and when to set up a tribunal. And I answered that question: we have not come to that. I want to give the Indonesians the opportunity to live up to their responsibility in putting these people on trial, including those that we claim should have been indicted and have not been indicted.
Q: Looking back at the UN’s performance over the last three years, what would you do differently?
A: Well, I think that the UN operation here has been quite successful, but like all operations we also have had some failures and some setbacks. I think we should have had more engineers and more technical people, local managers and planners who are used to working in the communities, to come in very quickly at the beginning. We also have to get much more resources to start picking out projects that would also have created more employment. And I think that some of these lessons that we have learnt also enabled us to make adjustments as we moved forward. Whether we could
have done something differently at the time of the election [30 August 1999 Popular Consultation] is a question I think that will linger with us all for a long time. But we had an understanding where the government at the time would have responsibility for security in East Timor, would be there to ensure that there would be peace, law and order before, during and after the election, and this did not turn out to be that way. And of course we are all terribly disappointed with that tragedy. But what was important was that we did not cross our arms but accepted the challenge and moved very quickly to get international forces in and to work with the East Timorese to bring them to today where we are going to celebrate their independence.
Q: Do you see Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello as your natural successor given the relative success of this mission?
A: (laughter). No, I think Sergio and the team have been remarkably successful and we are very proud of them. But of course as I said this is basically an East Timorese achievement. We are happy, and Sergio would agree with me, to have had the chance to help, to support; but the day belongs to the East Timorese.