UN welcomes intervention in East Timor
- Friday 26 May 2006

The United Nations Security Council President for May, Ambassador Basile Ikouébé of the Republic of Congo, said the 15-member body expressed its “full understanding” for the East Timorese Government’s request for Portuguese, Australian, New Zealand and Malaysian security forces to help restore order and appreciated those countries’ initial favourable responses.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sent Ian Martin, head of the UN Human Rights Mission in Nepal, to Timor-Leste to assess the situation as soldiers opened fire on unarmed police on May 25. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at nine with UN peacekeeping personnel among the wounded. Mr. Martin was Mr. Annan’s Special Representative in East Timor in 1999.

The task of the 1,800 Australian troops arriving in East Timor would be to stabilise the situation, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. He says they will carry out patrols and make sure that law and order is appropriately restored and that the law enforcement authorities in East Timor are able to get on with their jobs.

“In addition, they’d provide an environment in which the East Timor Government can begin negotiations with the – as they call them – rebel former soldiers, and try to work through some accommodation with them in order to bring a more sustained stability to the country,” he said.

Mr Downer, describing the situation for Australian troops to an interviewer on May 25, said, “It is quite dangerous. I wouldn't want to underestimate that. It is quite dangerous. There were 1,400 people in their defence force, and they [the East Timorese Government] sacked 595 of them, and there is a small number of police and perhaps some military personnel who have gone over to support those people. So you probably have somewhere around 650-700 personnel who could be categorised as falling into the camp of the rebels. So it's a lot of people. Some of them have weapons - not all of them - but it is a dangerous environment.”

According to Mr Downer the personnel went on strike because of a dispute over pay and promotion and other issues. When this dispute was not resolved the soldiers and some police were then sacked as a result of going on strike for insubordination. He described the situation as much more of an insurrection and more of a breakdown of law and order “than an environment which you could describe as a civil war.”

He said that the role of Australia’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Hill, would be to liaise with the United Nations, “to make sure that the Secretary General and the members of the Security Council, particularly the five permanent members of the Security Council, know what we're doing, understand what we're doing, and support what we're doing. So he has quite a big diplomatic job to do there.”

For more information, call the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (02) 6277 7500

Departmental 02 6261 1555 www.dfat.gov.au