Secretary-General's press encounter following Security Council Meeting on Timor-Leste
New York, 13 June 2006SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me first say a word about Palestine - how shocked and saddened I am by the latest missile attack by the Israelis, which killed nine people and wounded about forty. I have always maintained that there has to be proportional use of force, and governments have to be careful not to take action in areas where civilians are remotely likely to be put in harm's way, and that we need to respect humanitarian international law. I offer my deepest condolences to the families that lost their loved ones, and I would also want to say that, with regards to the [Qassam] attacks by the Palestinians, I have always condemned it and ask them to stop doing it. You will note that in all my reports to the [Security] Council, this has been reported to the Council, and in my own contacts with the two sides – with President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the Israelis – I have also maintained this. It was only last weekend that I spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister about this issue when the incident at the beach occurred.
Let me also say that I have just come from the Council, where we discussed the situation in Timor-Leste. The President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament have written to me, asking for UN assistance in terms of police, eventually military, and staff who will help them strengthen their institutions. We are working with the international forces on the ground; Ian Martin, my Special Envoy. is now briefing the Council, but it is obvious that the UN will have to go back to Timor-Leste in a much larger form than we are at the moment. And we will need to send an assessment mission on the ground to determine exactly what needs to be done. They have also requested that the UN undertakes an investigation into the recent events, and I have asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take a lead in mounting that investigation, and we would want to move as quickly as possible.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Israelis have done their own investigation into the first attack on the beach where that girl lost her whole family, and officials are saying that they are concluding that this is a mine that was on the beach, that sort of thing. Human rights organizations are saying that this is quite unlikely. Is it time for an international investigation - any which way – whether it is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or any which way you might find it necessary on both of these attacks in protection of these Palestinian innocent civilians?
SG: To find a mine on the beach is rather odd. With regards to an international investigation of any kind, it would require the cooperation of the parties. We would need both the Israelis and Palestinian authorities to cooperate with such an investigation. Our previous attempts at such investigations were not too successful, and I think you remember very well, you are the first to raise this and maybe we need to see what – we haven't had a request from any of the others.
Q: But would you call on the Israelis and the Palestinians to allow an international investigation?
SG: I haven't seen the results of the Israeli investigation to be able to answer your questions. But I think one would need to look at the investigation - how thorough, how competent it is, and how acceptable it is for one to extrapolate from there.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on East Timor, is it your expectation that the Australian-led force will once again go on to transfer to a UN force at some point? Do you expect this to be a classic UN peacekeeping force, something along the lines of what was there before? And also, the US, Australia and Japan have indicated before all the recent troubles that there wasn't such a need for a large peacekeeping presence. What is your assessment of their debate? Did they miscalculate in a major way, and what you had been asking for over the last year and a half, would that have made a difference?
SG: Let me say, Colum, that there is a lesson here for all of us. I think this is why, one of the reasons I am particularly happy that we now have a Peacebuilding Commission, which will look at peacebuilding activities in the medium to longer term than we tended in the past, to almost consider elections as the end of the process, and the time for us to exit. You are quite right, we had indicated that the UN should remain in East Timor a bit longer, but governments - some governments - were quite keen that we scale back as quickly as possible. Given what has happened, we are now having to reassess our own presence on the ground. For the medium term, we will have to co-habit the theatre with the international forces from the four countries and us, but eventually work out an arrangement where a transformed UN force takes over. I do not expect, in military terms, to see UN forces on the ground for the next six months or so. So I would hope that the countries that are engaged now will help maintain law and order until such time that the Security Council takes fresh decisions, and if there is going to be a new UN peacekeeping force, we will then be able to move in and take over from them.
Q: Have the Australians basically indicated to you that at some point they are going to want to transfer?
SG: I think they have indicated that they will probably be there for about six months to a year, which will mean that if the situation is not settled, and you've heard the East Timorese are indicating that there will be a need, and so they see a time limit for their stay.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, at a time when President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to force the hand of Hamas to accept the referendum, to instill the principle of the Road Map and two States living side by side in peace, Israel is conducting its offensive? [inaudible] missile attacks, targeting the efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas?
SG: I think we are living through a very difficult situation in the Palestinian territory. First of all, the Palestinians should find a way of unifying their efforts and coming together, and I think President Abbas and the other parties should work on bringing everyone together and define a common vision that they would all share. Division and infighting between the Palestinians does not help. I think that is the first issue one needs to focus on and settle. Obviously, given the tensions on the ground, the Israeli missile attacks have not helped either. We do accept that Israel has a right to defend itself and its population, but the issue of proportionality and respect for international humanitarian law is a basic requirement.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, how large would a force be?
SG: You mean in Timor-Leste? We will have to send an assessment mission in. What he [Ian Martin] did this time was to do an assessment of the political developments on the ground and what led to the crisis, and the situation as it exists, and how one should deal with it. But if we are going to send in a larger police and military mission with other components, we would need to send in an assessment mission, and I do intend to send in an assessment mission very shortly, led by Ian Martin, who is doing the job.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, don't you think that the UN left too early in East Timor?
SG: I am inclined to agree with you. This is why, when we were scaling back, we tried to do it as slowly as possible, but of course, we are in the hands of our Member States. But I think, as I said, there are lessons here, and I hope we have all learned that lesson, and the Peacebuilding Commission would also factor this in as they look into the future.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, about the Security Council meeting tomorrow, and today's visit by the American President, do you have any comments?
SG: Let me say that I spoke to the Iraqi Prime Minister yesterday – he called yesterday – and we exchanged some words about developments in Iraq and their discussions with the American administration about developments in Iraq and what can be done by the international community to support and reenergize the efforts at stabilizing Iraq. The Iraqi Foreign Minister is also coming to see me here on Friday, and will give me further details on it, and I expect that once the administration has finished its own analysis, which apparently they were doing yesterday and today, and given the visit you have referred to, I would also have the chance of having further discussions with them and other governments to determine what further the international community can do to help.
But I think, when I spoke to the Prime Minister, he did indicate that the Foreign Minister would give me more details on Friday, so I would prefer to hold back until I have spoken to the Foreign Minister. But knowing you, you are going to ask me, “Do we see you on Friday after you have seen the Foreign Minister?”
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, yesterday Jan Egeland briefed us on East Timor and he said that the world is poor in addressing emerging crises. Today the International Crisis Group just put out a report saying that, if there is a high-level assassination in the Occupied Territories, Palestine would go into civil war. Are you considering using other diplomatic resources, such as the Quartet, or talking to other people about making a move in the area?
SG: The Quartet is constantly in contact. We do have conference calls, and we are in touch with each other, both at the Envoy level, and at the Principal level. I can assure you that we are all extremely concerned about these developments, and I am personally in touch with the leaders in the region. I spoke to Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert over the weekend, and I expect to speak to President Abbas shortly. And I am also in touch with my other Quartet principals, and I will also be in touch with other leaders in the region.
Q: But you have a position on assassinations, Mr. Secretary-General. Are you not repeating it about these assassinations – extrajudicial, is that what you call them? It is against international law, do you not stand by what you said?
SG: I have always said that I stand by my statement with regards to respect for international law and the need to be careful not to resort to extrajudicial assassination of people who do not have a chance to respond to the accusations – whatever they may be – because they will no longer be around to answer questions anyway.