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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

13 February 2007

Desirous of peace, stability and democracy, the people of Timor-Leste needed the international community’s support to convert their commitment into real, concrete outcomes, Atul Khare, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste and the head of the United Nations Integrated Mission there told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.

Stressing that the development and strengthening of democratic institutions was a long and drawn-out process, he said yesterday’s Security Council meeting on the situation in Timor-Leste left him with a considerable degree of satisfaction in terms of the Council’s broad support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend the Mission’s current mandate, which expires on 25 February, by an additional 12-month period.

Describing the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), as defined by Council resolution 1704 (2006), he said a priority area of focus was to support the forthcoming elections -– the first national elections to be organized by Timor-Leste’s Government. The Mission was also tasked with ensuring support for justice and accountability, particularly looking at the report and recommendations of the Independent Special Commission of Inquiry, which the Secretary-General had established at the request of the Timorese authorities. Another priority area of the Mission’s mandate was to improve security and reconstitute the National Police Force, commonly known as the PNTL, and a comprehensive review of the security sector.

He added that he was returning to Timor-Leste with a sense of “cautious optimism” –- optimism because he believed that the United Nations, the Government and the people of Timor-Leste were committed to working together to ensure that peace, stability, development and democracy could prevail. Past experience had also taught him to be cautious, however. A premature and abrupt withdrawal of international support, or even a serious downsizing, would not benefit the United Nations, the international community and the country at large. The “momentary bump” in the nation-building process in April and May 2006 had demonstrated that.

Electoral support was also among the challenges facing the Government and the Mission, he said. Voter registration for the forthcoming national elections would run from 29 January to 16 March. To date, there had already been some 8,000 new registrations, which, given the country’s difficult terrain and infrastructure problems, was a high figure. With the new registrations, the total number of voters was estimated at some 465,000. Based on earlier census predictions, it was estimated that around 500,000 people would be enrolled as voters by the end of the registration period.

Security, which remained a challenge, was critical not only for stability but also for the successful conduct of credible, free and fair and transparent elections organized under an independent national electoral commission, he said, stressing the need for the results to be acceptable not only to the candidates and the Timorese people, but also the international community, which had made significant investments in the country.

Noting that last spring’s temporary “bump” was not the result of ethnic or religious conflict, but was a case of disgruntled former soldiers, a correspondent asked what the Government and Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta was doing to address their real grievances.

Responding, Mr. Khare said it was true that one dimension of the crisis had been the case of disgruntled soldiers. Ultimately, however, the crisis had been multidimensional and multifaceted. While there had been several contributing elements, the disgruntlement of the soldiers -- or petitioners -- had been a critical element. The Government had provided a financial subsidy to the petitioners. President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister Ramos-Horta had also formed a Commission of Notables, which, among other things, looked into the broad reasons for the petitioners’ grievances. The Commission’s report was expected in the next few days. He hoped its implementation would address some of the grievances.

It was also necessary to recall, however, that the National Police Force in Dili -– the PNTL –- had disintegrated during the crisis, particularly in May 2006, he added. The process of screening and evaluation of all police officers was aimed at ensuring that the police force was responsive, accountable, efficient and effective. Translating those words into reality, however, was the challenge.

Turning to the issue of security, he said it was necessary to look at the issue within the broader socio-economic context. Abject poverty, high levels of illiteracy and high unemployment rates, especially among the youth, also had to be addressed. In that regard, he was delighted to learn that the Government was trying to expand “cash forward” programmes, which provided $2 a day for rebuilding and repairs to infrastructure. A new development was the functioning of traffic lights in Dili, which had restored a sense of normalcy. The Minister of Labour and Community Reinsertion was planning to propose an employment policy to the Parliament and Government, which included a specifically targeted youth employment policy.

Responding to a question on the issue of oil and gas, he noted that revenues had started “trickling in”. Some $120 to $140 million was being received in oil and gas revenues per month. Oil was being pumped from offshore platforms. A pact had also been concluded between the Governments of Australia and Timor-Leste. Further discussions on two treaties were still taking place. Both the leaders of Australia and Timor-Leste had demonstrated maturity and pragmatism. He hoped the two additional treaties would soon be concluded.

Asked whether he had met separately with Chinese representatives on the situation in Timor-Leste, he said he had tried to meet with as many ambassadors in the last three days as possible. In that regard, he was happy that China’s Deputy Permanent Representative had met with him. While he would refrain from commenting on the impression he had drawn from statements in the Council, he did believe there was considerable degree of opinion in favour of a 12-month extension of the Mission’s mandate, which would send a clear signal of the international community’s continued engagement to Timor-Leste.

He agreed with the Prime Minister that an extension of 12 months was critical, as it would not only provide a sense of confidence in the international community’s support, but would also assist UNMIT in expanding its efforts to assist the country. The Mission was currently operating on a high vacancy rate. Extending the mandate would address that challenge, as many specialized job profiles needed time to achieve results, especially, for example, in the area of security sector reform.

An additional police unit of 140 people had been requested, he added in response to another question.

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For information media • not an official record

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