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RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: UN Set To Take Charge

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 1999 (IPS) - The UN Security Council, after the green light from Indonesia, is set to approve Monday an ambitious reconstruction mission for battered East Timor.

Indonesia renounced all claims to the territory last week, clearing the way for the Council’s 15 member states – including China, which previously opposed what it deemed to be interference in a country’s internal affairs – to support the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

A draft resolution, expected to be approved unanimously, would authorise UNTAET to take charge of the country’s administration, including its justice system and the development of a new constitution.

The resolution also would pave the way for the dispatch of some 10,000 troops, including more than 1,600 civilian police officers. The mission is expected to maintain order in East Timor until an elected government is chosen, a process which some officials here have predicted could take two to three years.

The UNTAET mission’s first civilian administrator is expected to be UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello, who recently ended a posting as temporary administrator of the UN mission in Kosovo.

Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, has been criticized by some diplomats here because his country has been a longtime supporter of East Timor and a critic of Indonesia’s 24-year occupation.

UN officials, however, have stressed Vieira de Mello would be an impartial administrator for the six-month period he is expected to serve.

Recent event also have underscored the fact that Indonesia – despite last month’s violence following the Aug. 30 ballot in which East Timorese voters opted for independence – is prepared to let go of East Timor.

On Wednesday, Indonesia’s legislature, the People’s Consultative Assembly, voted to reliquish its claims to the territory which it annexed in 1976 but which was never accepted by the United Nations.

That decision prompted the departure of thousands of Indonesian troops which had remained in East Timor even as roughly 7,000 Australian-led soldiers of the International Force in East Timor (Interfet) moved in to take charge.

With security restored in the East Timorese capital, Dili, Interfet brought back the country’s resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao, last week.

Gusmao, who had spent seven years in Indonesian jails and house arrest until his release last month, was greeted by hundreds of Timorese when he delivered a brief speech on Friday to declare that East Timor was on the road to independence.

“It has been a very difficult struggle, that has lasted too long,” Gusmao said. But, he added, East Timorese had shown the world that they were willing to fight for independence.

Although Timorese in general have been supportive of the impending UN transitional administration, Timorese officials have worried about the immense challenges that lay ahead.

“Basically, we have to worry about rebuilding East Timor,” Jose Luis Guterres, foreign affairs secretary for the pro- independence National Council of Timorese Resistance, said this week. “The whole country is destroyed.”

According to UN officials, much of East Timor was burned and looted during last month’s violence, blamed on pro-Indonesia militias and their Indonesian military allies, while hundreds of thousands of people remain missing.

Although thousands of East Timorese have started to return from the neighbouring Indonesian province of West Timor in recent days, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated this week that some 250,000 people may still be in West Timor or other parts of Indonesia.

The East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a US-based rights group, urged Indonesia’s government, under newly-selected President Abdurrahman Wahid, to allow the East Timorese now living in camps in West Timor to return.

“The refugee camps must come under international control,” said ETAN spokesman John Miller. “The militia and members of the Indonesian military now terrorising the refugees must be removed from the camps and prosecuted, so that humanitarian aid workers can safely assist the East Timorese.”

More than 2,000 East Timorese returned from West Timor on Thursday, UN officials here said, apparently after pro-Indonesia militais left a major camp in the West Timorese city of Kupang.

But the flow of refugees has been halting in recent days, with big movements often followed by days of restricted movement across the border into East Timor, the officials added.

 
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