East Timor - UNMISET - Background
   United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor
Facts & Figures
UN Documents
Map (PDF)

The United Nations General Assembly placed East Timor on the international agenda in 1960, when it added the territory to its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. At that time, East Timor was administered by Portugal. Fourteen years later, in 1974, Portugal sought to establish a provisional government and a popular assembly that would determine the status of East Timor. Civil war broke out between those who favoured independence and those who advocated integration with Indonesia. Unable to control the situation, Portugal withdrew. Indonesia intervened militarily and integrated East Timor as its 27th province in 1976. The United Nations never recognized this integration, and both the Security Council and the General Assembly called for Indonesia's withdrawal.

Beginning in 1982, at the request of the General Assembly, successive Secretaries-General held regular talks with Indonesia and Portugal aimed at resolving the status of the territory. In June 1998, Indonesia proposed a limited autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia. In light of this proposal, the talks made rapid progress and resulted in a set of agreements between Indonesia and Portugal, signed in New York on 5 May 1999. The two Governments entrusted the Secretary-General with organizing and conducting a "popular consultation" in order to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accepted or rejected a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia.

UNAMET and the Popular Consultation

To carry out the consultation, the Security Council, by resolution 1246 (1999), authorized the establishment of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) on 11 June 1999. The 5 May agreements stipulated that, after the vote, UNAMET would oversee a transition period pending implementation of the decision of the East Timorese people. On 30 August 1999, some 98 per cent of registered East Timorese voters went to the polls deciding by a margin of 21.5 per cent to 78.5 per cent to reject the proposed autonomy and begin a process of transition towards independence.

Following the announcement of the result, pro-integration militias, at times with the support of elements of the Indonesian security forces, launched a campaign of violence, looting and arson throughout the entire territory. The Secretary-General and the Security Council undertook strenuous diplomatic efforts to halt the violence, pressing Indonesia to meet its responsibility to maintain security and order in the territory. On 12 September 1999, the Government of Indonesia agreed to accept the offer of assistance from the international community. The Security Council then authorized (S/RES/1264) the multinational force (INTERFET) under a unified command structure headed by a Member State (Australia) to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and, within force capabilities, to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations.

Following the outbreak of violence, the Indonesian Armed Forces and police began a drawdown from the territory, eventually leaving completely. Indonesian administrative officials also left. On 28 September, Indonesia and Portugal, at a meeting with the United Nations, reiterated their agreement for the transfer of authority in East Timor to the United Nations. They also agreed that ad hoc measures were required to fill the gap created by the early departure of the Indonesian civil authorities.

UNTAET and Transition to Independence

On 19 October 1999, the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly formally recognized the result of the consultation. Shortly thereafter, on 25 October, the United Nations Security Council, by resolution 1272 (1999), established the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence. Resolution 1272 mandated UNTAET to provide security and maintain law and order throughout the territory of East Timor; to establish an effective administration; to assist in the development of civil and social services; to ensure the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation of humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and development assistance; to support capacity-building for self-government; and to assist in the establishment of conditions for sustainable development.

In February 2000, marking the complete deployment of UNTAET, command of military operations was transferred from INTERFET to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. UNTAET also began a process of reorganizing itself to resemble more closely the future government of East Timor and to increase the direct participation of the East Timorese.

On 30 August 2001, two years after the Popular Consultation, more than 91 per cent of East Timor's eligible voters went to the polls again; this time to elect an 88-member Constituent Assembly tasked with writing and adopting a new Constitution and establishing the framework for future elections and a transition to full independence. Shortly thereafter, 24 members of the new all-East Timorese Council of Ministers of the Second Transitional Government were sworn into office. The new Council replaced the Transitional Cabinet created in 2000. The Constituent Assembly and a new East Timorese Government were to govern East Timor during the remaining transitional period before its independence as a democratic and sovereign State.

East Timor's Constituent Assembly signed into force the Territory's first Constitution on 22 March 2002 and following presidential elections on 14 April, Mr. Xanana Gusmão was appointed president-elect of East Timor (Mr. Gusmão received 82.69 per cent of the vote and Mr. Fansciso Xavier do Amaral 17.31 per cent). With both these preconditions for a hand-over of power met the Constituent Assembly was to transform itself into the country's parliament on 20 May 2002.

Newly independent East Timor swore in its first government and held an inaugural session of Parliament on the morning of 20 May just hours after more than 120,000 people celebrated the birth of the nation at a massive ceremony on the outskirts of Dili. The government, composed primarily of the same cabinet members that comprised the pre-independence Council of Ministers, was officially inaugurated by President Xanana Gusmão. The ceremony was attended by some 300 dignitaries including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who handed over authority from the United Nations to the Speaker of East Timor's National Parliament. East Timor's Parliament then held its first session at which President Gusmão presented Secretary-General Annan with a request from East Timor to join the United Nations.

UNMISET and Post-independence Period

UNMISET and Post-independence Period UN involvement in Timor-Leste continued after its independence in May 2002 to ensure the security and stability of the nascent State. A new mission, known as the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), was set up by resolution 1410 (2002) unanimously adopted by the Security Council on 17 May 2002. The Mission was established with the following mandate: to provide assistance to core administrative structures critical to the viability and political stability of East Timor; to provide interim law enforcement and public Security and to assist in developing the East Timor Police Service (ETPS); and contribute to the maintenance of the new country's external and internal security.

The Council decided that the Mission, to be headed by a Special Representative of the Secretary-General, would initially comprise 1,250 civilian police and an initial military troop strength of 5,000, including 120 military observers. The civilian component would include focal points for gender and HIV/AIDS, a Civilian Support Group of up to 100 personnel filling core functions, a Serious Crimes Unit and a Human Rights Unit.

The Council decided that downsizing of UNMISET should proceed as quickly as possible, after careful assessment of the situation on the ground, and that the Mission would, over a period of two years, fully devolve all operational responsibilities to the East Timorese authorities as soon as feasible, without jeopardizing stability.

By the same resolutions, the Council paid tribute to the dedication and professionalism of UNTAET and to the leadership of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira De Mello, in assisting the people of East Timor in the transition towards independence.

Over the course of next two years, UNMISET had gradually handed over its executive authority for external and internal security to the Government of Timor-Leste. During this period, UNMISET concentrated on continued capacity development of the police services, exercising its responsibilities for the maintenance of law and order and external security, and contributing to the development of skills and knowledge of Timorese counterparts in critical state institutions and performance of operational line functions in those areas where a lack of Timorese expertise could have had serious adverse impacts on peace and stability in the country.

In the consolidation phase of UNMISET’s mandate, which lasted nine months, the mission focused on supporting the Government in building the institutional capacity and ensuring the smooth transition from peacekeeping to a sustainable development assistance framework.

The mandate of UNMISET was completed in May 2005 and a successor UN political mission—the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL)—was established on 20 May 2005.

The new Office was to continue to support the development of critical State institutions by providing up to 45 civilian advisers; support further development of the police through the provision of up to 40 police advisers, and bolster the development of the Border Patrol Unit (BPU) by providing up to 35 additional advisers. It was also to provide training in observance of democratic governance and human rights by providing up to 10 rights officers; and review progress on those fronts.

UNOTIL was scheduled to end its mandate in May 2006, and the Security Council had already received the Secretary-General’s recommendations for the post-UNOTIL period. However, a series of events culminating in a political, humanitarian and security crisis of major dimensions led the Council to prolong UNOTIL’s mandate and ultimately in August 2006 to establish a new mission—the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

Maintained by the Peace and Security Section of the Department of Public Information
in cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
© United Nations 2006