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 favored 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.
Despite an extremely tight timetable, a high level of tension, and the Territory's mountainous terrain, poor roads and difficult communications, UNAMET registered 451,792 potential voters among the population of just over 800,000 in East Timor and abroad. On voting day, 30 August 1999, some 98 per cent of registered voters went to the polls deciding by a margin of 94,388 (21.5 per cent) to 344,580 (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 Indonesian authorities did not respond effectively to the violence, despite clear commitments made under the 5 May agreements. Many East Timorese were killed and as many as 500,000 were displaced from their homes, about half leaving the territory, in some cases by force. UNAMET undertook a partial evacuation of both its international and local staff, including their immediate families, to Australia. A small team of UNAMET staff remained in the UN Headquarters in Dili to ensure the safety of non-UN staff would had sought refuge there.
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. A Security Council mission visited Jakarta and Dili, and the Secretary-General worked to rally support among Governments for a multinational force authorized by the Security Council to bring the situation under control. As the Council mission concluded its visit to Jakarta on 12 September 1999, the Government of Indonesia agreed to accept the offer of assistance from the international community. The Security Council then authorized 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.
In the meantime, organizations of the United Nations system began a large-scale emergency humanitarian relief effort, including airdrops of food, aid convoys and the provision of shelter and basic services. Relief workers and supplies were deployed incrementally as the security situation improved. At the same time, increasing attention was paid to the voluntary repatriation of some 250,000 East Timorese from West Timor and other areas in Indonesia and the region. To finance the relief effort, a Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for US$199 million was launched on 27 October 1999.
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. UNAMET re-established its headquarters in Dili on 28 September and immediately began efforts to restore the mission's logistical capacity and redeploy UNAMET personnel as conditions allowed.
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, multidimentional 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.
Soon after, the Transitional Administrator, in consultation with East Timorese political leadership, established the National Consultative Council (NCC), a political body consisting of 11 East Timorese and four UNTAET members, to oversee the decision-making process during the transition period leading to independence. The NCC was consulted on and consented to a series of urgent regulations required to establish effective administration in the Territory. These included: setting up a legal system, re-establishing a judiciary, setting an official currency, creating border controls, taxation, and creating a first consolidated budget for East Timor.
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. Eight portfolios were created: internal administration, infrastructure, economic affairs, social affairs, finance, justice, police and emergency services, and political affairs. The first four were headed by East Timorese and the other four by senior UNTAET officials. The process of transformation and institution building would later lead to the establishment, in August 2000, of the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) headed by the Transitional Administrator.
Meanwhile, during the first six months of 2000, more than 167,000 refugees returned from Indonesia, primarily from West Timor, with an estimated 85,000 to 120,000 remaining in camps in West Timor. However, in September, a series of armed attacks against United Nations troops and East Timorese people along the border and in refugee camps in West Timor led UNTAET to declare western zones to be "high threat" areas. Following the murder of three United Nations staff members in Atambua, West Timor, by armed militias on 6 September 2000, humanitarian relief efforts in the region were suspended.
The United Nations Security Council responded to the deteriortaing security situation by adopting resolution 1319 on 8 September 2000. The resolution called on the Government of Indonesia to take immediate steps, in fulfillment of its responsibilities, to disarm and disband militia immediately, restore law and order in the affected areas in West Timor, ensure safety and security in the refugee camps and for humanitarian workers, and prevent cross-border incursions into East Timor.
In addition to the planned expansion of the East Timor Police Service, on 12 September 2000, the Transitional Cabinet approved the creation of an East Timor Defence Force consisting of 1,500 troops drawn from the ranks of the former East Timorese pro-independence guerilla force FALINTIL and supplemented by a reserve of equal number.
Running parallel to efforts towards maintaining peace and security in East Timor were measures aimed at developing a functioning judicial and legal system. An East Timorese Prosecutor General's Office and a Defender Service; 3 District Courts; a Court of Appeals, and prisons in Dili and two other locations were established in the course of 2000.
In October 2000, a National Council (NC) was established to replace and expand on the former National Consultative Council (NCC) as the nucleus of a future assembly. It comprised 36 members from East Timorese civil society - businesses, political parties, NGOs, and the territory's 13 districts. East Timorese were appointed to five of nine cabinet portfolios.
A regulation concerning the election of the Constituent Assembly, scheduled for 30 August, was promulgated on 16 March 2001 that formed the basis for the preparation of the electoral roll. On the same day civil registration of all residents began and by 23 June 737,811 people had registered.
Meanwhile, efforts to create a means for sustainable development and secure economic growth in East Timor proceeded. A milestone in these efforts was reached on 3 July 2001, when representatives of the Transitional Administration and Australia initialed the Timor Sea Arrangement, a document that would govern petroleum operations in the Timor Sea.
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, Xanana Gusmao was appointed president-elect of East Timor. With both these preconditions for a hand-over of power met the Constituent Assembly will transform itself into the country's parliament on 20 May 2002.
The United Nations will continue to maintain a presence in East Timor throughout the post-independence period to ensure the security and stability of the nascent State. A successor mission, to be known as The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), will adopt a milestone-based approach towards its gradual withdrawal from the Territory and will support the East Timorese authorities in the areas of stability, democracy and justice, internal security and law enforcement and external security and border control.
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