SECURITY COUNCIL BRIEFED ON EAST TIMOR BY ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING

22 December 1999
SC/6776

SECURITY COUNCIL BRIEFED ON EAST TIMOR BY ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING

  • Security Council
22 December 1999

Press ReleaseSC/6776

SECURITY COUNCIL BRIEFED ON EAST TIMOR BY ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING

19991222

A donor conference held in Tokyo last week had resulted in pledges amounting to $522 million for East Timor, the Security Council was told this morning, as it heard a Secretariat briefing on the situation in that territory. Those funds would cover humanitarian assistance, administration and capacity-building for self- government, and reconstruction and development.

Briefing the Council, Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the disbursement of the funds would ensure the Organization's ability to carry out the large and complex task it had undertaken in East Timor, where the humanitarian situation, though improved, remained very difficult. Ensuring the voluntary return of refugees remained a top priority. Slightly under 120,000 had returned as of 20 December.

He said the security situation in East Timor had remained largely stable, despite isolated incidents of verbal and physical abuse of returning refugees on the grounds that they had supported autonomy, rather than independence. Military observers from the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) were deployed throughout the territory. The transition from the multinational force INTERFET to the United Nations was to take place in February under an agreed concept that would ensure that a strong operational capacity would be maintained throughout.

In the discussion following the briefing, the representative of France said that the international community's generosity towards East Timor gave the lie to those who had accused the United Nations of favouring Europe over other regions. The apparently successful functioning of UNTAET was due largely to the efforts of the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had articulated clear objectives, particularly East Timorese national reconciliation. Dialogue with anti-independence leaders and the fostering of national peace and reconciliation were good signs.

The representative of the United States welcomed the recent meeting between East Timor independence leader Xanana Gusmao and former leaders of the autonomy faction. Cooperation between them would facilitate the transition process. However, the United States was concerned over the slowdown in the return of refugees. It was important that the inhabitants of East Timor now living in refugee camps be speedily resettled. It was equally important that the Commission

Security Council - 1a - Press Release SC/6776 4085th Meeting (AM) 22 December 1999

of Inquiry into human rights abuses continue its work, for the facts must be brought into the open and the culprits identified.

Canada's representative, describing the refugee problem as disturbing, called on the Indonesian Government to take all possible steps to ensure they returned in conditions of safety and dignity. Paying tribute to Australia's contribution in efforts to resolve the East Timor situation, he said the operation should have been a full-fledged United Nations undertaking from the start. Noting that Australia's share of the operation's costs would be met by levying of a special tax on the Australian population, he stressed that recourse to such methods was not the right way to finance an international operation of that kind.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Bahrain, Brazil, Russian Federation, China, Slovenia, Argentina, Malaysia, Gambia, Namibia, Gabon, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Following the debate, Mr. Annabi responded to questions raised by Council members.

This morning's meeting began at 11:38 a.m. and adjourned at 1:12 p.m.

Work Programme

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing on the situation in East Timor.

Statements

HEDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the donor conference held in Tokyo had been a great success, with pledges amounting to $522 million covering humanitarian assistance, administration and capacity-building for self-government, and reconstruction and development. The disbursement of those funds would ensure that the United Nations had the resources required for the large and complex task it had undertaken in East Timor.

He said the security situation in East Timor had remained largely stable. Although there had been isolated incidents of verbal and sometimes physical abuse of returning refugees, on the grounds that they had supported autonomy rather than independence, no serious casualties had resulted. The military observers of the United Nations Transitional Administrations in East Timor (UNTAET) were deployed throughout the territory and had set up 11 liaison posts on both sides of the border with West Timor to ensure liaison between INTERFET and the Indonesian armed forces and to facilitate the return of refugees.

Planning for the establishment of the mission’s military component was proceeding in close consultation with INTERFET, he said. The transition from the multinational force to the United Nations was to take place in February under an agreed concept that ensured that a strong operational capacity would be maintained throughout. While much of UNTAET’s force would come from INTERFET, a number of important assets would come from abroad, particularly engineering units and helicopter support. The Force Commander would be from the Philippines and the Deputy Commander an Australian officer.

The humanitarian situation had improved, though it remained very difficult, he said. Ensuring the voluntary return of refugees remained a top priority. As of 20 December, a little under 120,000 refugees had returned. Despite the agreement brokered by the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, between INTERFET and the Indonesian armed forces, the rate of return had not increased. Reasons for that included intimidation and misinformation of refugees in West Timor by militias; lack of infrastructure, aggravated by the rainy season; and a reluctance of some refugees to return immediately.

He said that UNTAET had established, in close cooperation with the Timorese, the National Consultative Council of East Timor, chaired by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello and composed of 15 members. Seven were designated by the National Council of National Resistance of East Timor (NCRT), three by political parties that had supported autonomy, one by the Catholic Church and four representing UNTAET.

The establishment of good relations between East Timor and Indonesia was high on UNTAET's agenda, he said. At the end of November, independence leader Xanana Gusmao had visited Indonesia at the invitation of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Discussions had centred on the release of all remaining East Timorese political prisoners, which had since occurred. Mr. Vieira de Mello had also met the President in Jakarta earlier this month.

JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (Bahrain) said that the situation in East Timor had proved the extent to which peacekeeping could succeed when there was cooperation within the United Nations. The East Timor operation could not have succeeded without the genuine will of Indonesia. Bahrain also paid tribute to Portugal for its commitment to a successful outcome of the East Timor question.

He said that among the tasks to be undertaken by UNTAET was increased assistance to displaced persons and returnees. Further support ought to be provided by donor nations. Bahrain was pleased with the results of the Tokyo pledging conference. It was satisfied with the means used to ensure safe return of refugees.

GELSON FONSECA (Brazil) said East Timor was an important lesson for the future action of the Security Council. Today marked the start of its reconstruction. The very positive response given by the international community to the donor's conference held in Tokyo last week surpassed expectations; he hoped the commitments undertaken would be secured. Brazil would make a modest contribution to the Trust Fund for East Timor and was ready to support the territory with human resources and technical cooperation.

The kind of leadership displayed at the Tokyo would be necessary for the promotion of post-conflict peace-building and national healing, he continued. The reconstruction of the physical infrastructure would have to be matched by political efforts for further reconciliation in the transition to independence. The Conselho Nacional da Resistência Timorense (CRNT) had a very important role to play in that regard. The actions of the CRNT leadership had translated into deeds Xanana Gusmao's aspirations to unite the East Timorese. However, the current attitude of forgiveness should not prevent the implementation of a thorough investigation to establish responsibility for the rampage and mayhem that had been unleashed upon the people of East Timor.

While some of the so called militias had been dissolved, others were still preventing internally displaced persons from returning to East Timor, he said. He understood that some 140,000 East Timorese were still in West Timor and on neighbouring islands; he asked for confirmation of those figures. After independence, when UNTAET left the country, the United Nations would continue to have a role in assisting the Timorese people to build a prosperous and democratic country.

NANCY SODERBERG (United States) said she was gratified that the Council was keeping the question of East Timor on its agenda, even though the situation had faded from the headlines. In paying tribute to the work of the multinational force, she added that great credit was due to the activities of Special Representative Vieira de Mello, whose accomplishments on the ground had yielded exceptional results. She welcomed the recent meeting between Mr. Gusmao and former leaders of the autonomy faction. Cooperation between them would facilitate the transition process.

Equally welcome was the recent donor meeting in Tokyo, she said, where the United States had pledged to contribute approximately $34.9 million, plus another $30 million in direct assistance to the refugees. The United States also intended to provide assistance to small farmers in East Timor, and was determined to remain an active partner in operations there.

However, she expressed concern over the slowdown in the return of refugees, despite recent hopes that returns would accelerate. It was important that the inhabitants of East Timor now living in refugee camps be speedily resettled. It was equally important that the Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses continue its work, for the facts must be brought into the open and the culprits identified.

ROBERT FOWLER (Canada) also paid tribute to the remarkable progress on the ground and the transition from post-conflict challenges to the challenges of reconstruction and development. However, he was disturbed by the problem of the militias and of returning refugees. He called on the Indonesian Government to take all possible steps to ensure the return of the refugees in conditions of safety and dignity. He welcomed the establishment of the working group assigned to see to the return of refugees and the lowering of tensions on the ground, which should be of great help to the transitional administration and should facilitate the handover from INTERFET to UNTAET. By the end of March, he said, Canadian soldiers would be in East Timor wearing blue helmets.

In paying tribute to Australia's contribution from the outset of the operation, he said that Canada had always believed that the operation should have been a full-fledged United Nations undertaking. Noting that Australia's share of the operation's costs would be met by the levy of a special tax on the Australian population, he thanked the generosity of the Australian Government and people. He reiterated, however, that recourse to such methods was emphatically not the right way to finance such an international operation. He concluded by expressing support for the activities of the international Commission of Inquiry and of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission.

ANDREI GRANOVSKY (Russian Federation) emphasized the importance of the planned transfer of INTERFET to the United Nations administration in East Timor. Of exceptional importance was the establishment of consultation mechanisms on self- government for the people of East Timor. There was also the urgent issue of displaced persons. The Russian Federation was satisfied that there had been progress in the territory and planned to take part in the various components involved in establishing a United Nations administration and eventually, an independent East Timor.

QUIN HUASUN (China) said it was his country’s consistent view that the United Nations presence in East Timor was for the future development of East Timor and for the participation of the people of East Timor in the decision-making process. He welcomed the holding of the recent donor conference in Tokyo. He noted that Mr. Gusmao had expressed his willingness to cooperate both with the pro- independence and the pro-integration elements in East Timor, and expressed the hope that the military component of the United Nations presence in the territory might be progressively reduced as East Timor moved towards effective self-government. In that regard, he welcomed the recent statements made on behalf of the new East Timor Consultative Commission.

DANILO TURK (Slovenia) said that the safe and timely return of refugees was of paramount importance. The picture presented by the Assistant Secretary-General remained bleak and it was hoped that those remaining in West Timor would soon be able to return to their homes in safety and dignity. Slovenia supported the need to investigate human rights abuses and to ensure the swift delivery of justice. Reconciliation was essential for achieving the reconstruction of East Timor.

ALAIN DEJAMMET (France) noted with satisfaction that information on the situation in East Timor was generally positive. Recent months had once again furnished the example of rapid and successful Council action. Among the reasons for the apparently successful functioning of UNTAET, he said, was the effort of the Secretary-General's Special Representative. Mr. Vieira de Mello had articulated clear objectives, foremost among them the question of East Timorese national reconciliation.

He said the dialogue with anti-independence leaders and the establishment of institutions in every field, including the legal sphere, as well as the fostering of national peace and reconciliation, were all good signs. Moreover, the success of the Tokyo donor conference, where the response had exceeded all expectations, was a positive sign.

He said he concurred with the view of the representative of Canada that the East Timor operation should have been under United Nations auspices from the start. The generosity displayed towards East Timor by the international community partly gave the lie to those who criticized the United Nations for favouring Europe over other regions of the world. A like generosity was sorely needed in Kosovo, he said, where financial support for the United Nations was faltering.

He asked Mr. Annabi if the figure of more than 8,000 personnel earmarked for UNTAET would be maintained at that level, or whether it might be progressively reduced if the security and human rights situation improved. He also asked for further details of the costs envisaged for UNTAET. In conclusion, he reiterated his appeal to the international community to show the same generosity for Kosovo as it had just demonstrated for East Timor.

FERNANDO ENRIQUE PETRELLA (Argentina) welcomed the improvement of the situation in East Timor, thanks to the action of the multinational force and the work of Special Representative Vieira de Mello. It was vital that the situation continue to improve and permit the return of refugees to their homes. He was concerned at the humanitarian situation and the problem of returning refugees. It was vital, he said, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees be given untrammeled access to the refugee camps. He hoped that the recent meeting between Mr. Gusmao and the militia leaders meant that intimidation of refugees would cease. He concluded by adding his congratulations for the successful outcome of the Tokyo donors conference.

MOHAMMED KAMAL YAN YAHAYA (Malaysia) expressed the hope that the relative calm in East Timor would contribute to reconciliation efforts that had been undertaken in the territory. All East Timorese, whatever their political persuasion, had a future in an independent East Timor. Malaysia was gratified by reconciliation efforts between East Timor and Indonesia, especially the recent visit to Jakarta by Xanana Gusmao. It was hoped that all East Timorese refugees would be able to return home and receive the assistance necessary to rebuild their lives. Malaysia praised all the donor countries that had contributed to the Tokyo pledging conference.

BABOUCARR-BLAISE ISMALILA JAGNE (Gambia) paid tribute to Australia and the other countries that had contributed troops to INTERFET. His country was pleased with the establishment of UNTAET and welcomed the appointment of Sergio Vieira de Mello as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in East Timor. His Government was prepared to provide the mission with civilian police and civil servants. He agreed with the representative of France on the need for donor nations to respond with similar generosity to crisis situations in other regions.

MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) noted that, judging from the briefing and the latest INTERFET report, there was no significant threat to peace in East Timor. It was hoped that the situation would improve further. Namibia paid tribute to Australia's leadership of the multinational force and to the other countries that had contributed troops to it. A less positive aspect was the continued intimidation of refugees by militias. Namibia welcomed the establishment of relations between Indonesia and East Timor and the visit to Jakarta by Xanana Gusmao. He echoed the representative of France on the need for an increased donor response to similar situations elsewhere in the world.

DENIS DANGUE RÉWAKA (Gabon) said that on 30 August the people of East Timor had spoken out in favour of a transition to independence, a wish that was ratified by the Indonesian Consultative Council. Now, the people of East Timor had begun the journey to autonomy. However, it should be noted that the support of the international community and the international financial institutions was still needed. Issues relating to reconstruction and development would be resolved as the people of East Timor moved towards self-government. Turning to the issue of continued militia harassment of East Timorese refugees in West Timor, he expressed the hope not only that such actions would cease, but that full light would be thrown on the culprits

PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) said the new situation in East Timor was reflected in the fact that the General Assembly had decided to close its item on the situation there and adopted a new agenda item relating to East Timor's present hopeful course.

He said he understood that President Wahid intended to visit East Timor in January and he considered that to be a step of great importance. His Government noted with satisfaction that, through a variety of bilateral and multilateral channels, the international community was continuing its support for the people of East Timor during this difficult period. The diversity and intensity of that aid was, of course, satisfying, but he warned that there could be too much aid. The absorption capacity of East Timor must be taken into account and East Timor must not be led into an aid-dependent situation. He welcomed the emphasis in the Secretary-General's report on the need to cooperate very closely with the East Timorese themselves. In that regard, he welcomed the formation of the East Timorese Administrative Council.

He said there was another issue underlined in the Secretary-General=ðs report: the need to bring those guilty of harassment of refugees to justice. He hoped the report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry would be available as soon as possible. He mentioned the recent murder in East Timor of a Dutch journalist. He hoped that the report on that incident would be available without delay.

While there had been substantial returns of refugees from West Timor, Mr. Annabi's briefing indicated that there were a number of factors, including disinformation, inhibiting the return of the remaining refugees. Intentional disinformation came close to intimidation, and intimidation came close to force. However, the cooperative attitude of the Indonesian Government gave cause for hope that concerns over the plight of refugees -- and accountability for human rights abuses -- would soon also be stilled. The President of the Council, Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of his country, said he shared the continued concern of other members about the plight of refugees and about accountability for human rights abuses in East Timor.

He said the results of the donors conference in Tokyo were all the more welcome because the United Nations and the World Bank did not always cooperate so closely. The United Kingdom’s contribution had been somewhat less than expected, due to its commitments to Sierra Leone.

Responding to questions put by Council members in the course of their statements, Mr. ANNABI said the fact that some refugees were not returning to East Timor was attributable to a combination of factors. Particularly harmful was the systematic disinformation given by the militias. There was also the widespread destruction in East Timor, which made many refugees reluctant to return to their homes, and the fact that many of those who had voted for autonomy -- they made up more than 20 per cent of the population -- no longer dared return to East Timor. Some 120,000 refugees had already made their way back, but it was likely that many did not want to return in the immediate future. He hoped that the working group recently established to deal with the problem would examine all aspects of the question and, thus, contribute to improving the situation. Those who wished to return must be allowed to do so, and those who did not wish to return must be resettled elsewhere.

As for the size of the United Nations forces in East Timor, he agreed with Council members that the units replacing INTERFET should be a credible force. At just over 8,000 members, the force would be smaller than the 11,000-plus INTERFET contingent. The security situation had improved, again thanks to INTERFET. If such trends persisted, the Secretary-General would undoubtedly re-evaluate the situation and propose force reductions to the Council, as long as that could be contemplated without compromising security. As for the division and coordination of labour in the delivery of assistance, an effort had been made to present donors with a complete tabl

For information media. Not an official record.