THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

 

BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL

 

ON VISIT TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

 

New York, 29 February 2000

 

Mr. President,

 

Excellencies,

 

I am pleased to be back among you. As you know, I have just returned from a journey of two and a half

weeks during which I visited Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia and New Zealand. I also

had the honour to attend the Tenth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Bangkok - an

important and constructive meeting which I hope will mark the beginning of a new phase in international

economic relations, after the disappointment of Seattle.

In all of those countries I saw and learned a great deal.

It was encouraging to see the success of both Thailand and Singapore in recovering from the recent financial

crisis. And I found it especially moving to witness the heroic efforts of the Indonesian government and people

to overcome their many difficulties and advance into a new era of freedom and democracy, notably by

bringing the military under full civilian control. I went there with a simple message: that the unity of a great

and diverse nation such as Indonesia is best preserved by political rather than military means. I am glad to

say this message was well received, because it corresponded to courageous decisions which the government

had already taken. It is to be applauded for seeking a solution to the crises in Aceh and the Moluccas

through dialogue and special programmes for economic and social development, rather than through martial

law.

I believe the government is entitled to all possible international support in its efforts to improve the economic

and social conditions of the population, since failure could have the most serious political implications not

only for Indonesia itself but for the whole region.

I also had most useful discussions with the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, and had occasion to thank

the Australian people, especially, for the leading role Australia has played in transforming the fortunes and

prospects of East Timor.

 

EAST TIMOR

 

Mr. President, I trust the Council will understand that it implies no disrespect for the other countries I visited

if I say that, once I left UNCTAD X, East Timor and its problems became the central focus of my journey.

That simply reflects the unusual responsibilities which have been given to the United Nations in East Timor.

It is that issue that I wish especially to bring to your attention this morning.

If I had to sum up my findings in East Timor in one phrase, I would say that I was both depressed and

impressed. I was depressed by the spectacle of destruction, much of which had clearly been inflicted

systematically, and which was far worse even than I had imagined from what I had seen on television and

read in reports.

But I was also greatly impressed -- by the East Timorese leadership, above all Mr. Xanana Gusmao, and by

the determination of the East Timorese people to rebuild their country and to achieve reconciliation, both

with each other and with their neighbours. Given the right kind of assistance, East Timor can have a good and

stable future. That is where this Council still has a vital role to play.

The security emergency in East Timor has more or less ended, although of course there are still threats. Let

me particularly commend the leadership provided by General Cosgrove, and congratulate both him and

General de los Santos on completing the smooth and seamless transfer of responsibility from INTERFET to

UNTAET.

The deployment of these two forces -- first a coalition of the willing, and then a United Nations peacekeeping

operation -- shows the difference rapid deployment can make. I would like again to thank all those

Governments which have rallied to support this operation. Had they not demonstrated such impressive

political will, East Timor's history and prospects would be quite different from what they are.

But please make no mistake: there is still an emergency, and a very serious one. East Timor faces a

daunting task of reconstruction - not only in terms of bricks and mortar, but also in rebuilding its society.

People need jobs, schools, and clinics. Ports, roads, buildings: all must be re-built, or built from scratch. Laws

and institutions must be put in place, and East Timor's people trained in all the skills required to run a

modern state.

At the recent Tokyo conference, governments pledged more than $500 million in assistance -- a truly

impressive sum. If all the pledges made there are fulfilled, this will be one of the rare cases where neither

soldiers nor money are in short supply. But, as we all know, turning pledges into cash takes time. Funds are

flowing, but not quickly enough. At present, there is still only 22 million dollars in the United Nations Trust

Fund for East Timor.

The World Bank has also begun disbursing money, and has streamlined its procedures so that its

representatives on the spot can make decisions on expenditure, within certain limits, without reference to

Washington. Mr. Wolfensohn visited East Timor a few days after myself, and signed an agreement with my

Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, under which some 21 million dollars will be released for

urgent needs. We are also trying to attract members of the East Timorese diaspora to lend their skills and

support.

Still, we need even greater momentum if the East Timorese are to feel positive changes in their daily lives, to

achieve reconciliation among themselves, and avoid the dependency and social unrest which despair and

national trauma such as they have been through can so easily breed.

I am glad to report that every country I visited promised to assist East Timor in this undertaking.

It was particularly heartening to sense good relations emerging between Indonesia and East Timor, between

Australia and East Timor, and between Indonesia and Australia - three nations indissolubly linked by history,

geography and trade. Already, UNTAET, acting on behalf of the East Timorese people, has worked out an

arrangement with Australia on revenue sharing from oil and gas production in the Timor Gap. Although in the

immediate future East Timor's share would not amount to more than 7 or 8 million dollars per year, there are

hopes that in the medium term larger sums could accrue. In addition, efforts have begun to resolve thorny

issues of property rights, and other outstanding problems. I left the region encouraged by the degree of

goodwill that exists among the three peoples, and their desire to forge a harmonious future. I am sure

President Wahid's visit to East Timor today will mark an important new step in that direction.

Mr. President, the effort to meet all these challenges must not be governed by arbitrary deadlines. None of

us, I am sure, have any desire to keep East Timor under United Nations administration for a moment longer

than necessary. Equally, however, it would be irresponsible to leave before the job is done. The timing of our

departure must be decided by objective criteria of achievement.

Accordingly, I have instructed my Special Representative to draw up such criteria, in consultation with the

East Timorese leadership, so that we will know when we have accomplished what we set out to do when, in

other words, the East Timorese are ready to assume full control of their destiny.

Both they and we must be patient, for that moment is still some way off. I said this when I attended a session

of the National Consultative Council, the primary mechanism through which the representatives of the East

Timorese people participate in the decision-making process.

And I say it again to this Council. You have provided an initial mandate which expires at the end of January

next year. We will do our best to work within that timeframe; but we should be prepared to extend it if

necessary. We must see this job through to its natural conclusion.

One crucial element in East Timor's ability to move forward will be a proper reckoning for past injustices. An

Indonesian Commission of Inquiry, sanctioned by the Government, has already published a frank report on

the violence, and the Attorney-General is demonstrating a will to move ahead with prosecutions and trials.

I am aware, of course, that the Security Council can choose to form a tribunal of its own. But, Mr. President,

I share the belief - which is implicit in your letter to me of 18 February - that Indonesia should be given the

chance to demonstrate its capacity to do a credible and transparent job of holding people accountable for

their crimes. As you suggested in that letter, I am consulting with the Government of Indonesia to see what

forms of assistance the United Nations can provide to help Indonesia ensure that international standards of

human rights and humanitarian law are respected - and I urge Member States to do the same.

Not only is such credible and transparent justice essential for the people of East Timor. It would also promote

the wider transformation to democracy occurring in Indonesia itself, and serve as a deterrent. I met with most

of the key figures in the Indonesian Government, and they were united in their determination to move in this

direction. They are surely entitled to our support.

 

Mr. President,

 

May I now briefly mention a few other regional issues that came up consistently in my talks?

 

CAMBODIA

 

As you know, the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia have been engaged in negotiations over

the nature of a tribunal to try Khmer rouge personnel accused of genocide and other violations of

international humanitarian law. The international community and Cambodia itself agree that such a tribunal

should have an international character and be able to ensure that minimum international legal standards are

met.

But translating that wish into specific arrangements has proved difficult. I have recently exchanged letters on

this subject with Prime Minister Hun Sen, following which we had a very constructive meeting in Bangkok.

We agreed that there is a real need to resolve our remaining differences so that trials can begin.

The main concern on the United Nations side is to ensure that the judicial system set up for this purpose

under Cambodian law does indeed reach international standards. It must guarantee the arrest and surrender

of all indictees; it must exclude any amnesty for genocide or crimes against humanity; and it must include an

appropriate international element among both prosecutors and judges.

Some of these issues are extremely difficult, but we shall continue to discuss them with the Cambodian

government. I shall shortly be sending a United Nations team to Cambodia for that purpose, in the hope that

this will be the last and decisive round of discussions. Prime Minister Hun Sen has indicated readiness to

receive the team. Let me assure you that the United Nations is acting in good faith, purely with a view to

ensuring respect for the international standards that have been developed over the years. I sincerely hope

that I can count on the support of Member States for the Organisation's efforts to arrive at an acceptable

solution.

 

MYANMAR

 

In Myanmar, the situation has languished for too long without any signs of progress. I sought the help and

advice of a number of leaders in the search for ways of breaking the current impasse between the State

Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy. It is my sense that flexibility is

needed from both sides. For my part, I intend shortly to appoint a new envoy who will pick up where Mr. de

Soto left off.

 

ASEAN

 

I also had an opportunity to forge closer ties between the United Nations and the Association of Southeast

Asian Nations. Although the United Nations and individual ASEAN members are long-standing development

partners, ASEAN is the only major regional organisation without observer status at the United Nations.

Thailand, which holds the current presidency of ASEAN, took advantage of UNCTAD X and the presence in

Bangkok of ASEAN leaders to organize an ASEAN-UN summit, with the participation of ASEAN heads of

state and government and the heads of United Nations agencies and programmes.

This informal meeting covered many issues, and broke new ground with respect to preventive diplomacy and

conflict resolution. I suggested that the time had come for the United Nations and ASEAN to step up their

co-operation in the general area of peace and security. The United Nations would also be prepared to work

with ASEAN in the context of the ASEAN regional forum.

There seemed to be general agreement on these points. Officials on both sides will be exploring the

possibilities, and I expect further progress in the months ahead.

The heads of state also recognised that East Timor is an important part of the region. They were pleased that

they had rallied to its support following Indonesia's decision to accept the need for a multinational force last

September, and expressed their willingness to help with the reconstruction effort. The recent tour of the

region by Mr. Gusmao and Mr. Ramos Horta had clearly been a great success.

 

Mr. President,

 

Let me now conclude by repeating once more my plea to the wider international community to support our

operation in East Timor both politically and materially, and to show both support and understanding for the

difficult transition that Indonesia is going through.

In Indonesia, the implications of failure hardly bear thinking about. In East Timor the worst may be over, but

in some key respects our job has only just begun. The international community must remain involved for the

long run. This is a crucial test for all of us. It would be tragic indeed if, after such suffering, we did not make

the best of this promising moment in East Timor's history.

Now I would be grateful to hear your comments and happy to answer any questions. Thank you very much.