Fundasaun Mahein 09 August 2012 - Timorese generally feel a sense of pride when contemplating the departure of UNMIT and ISF from Timor-Leste at the end of the year. It is a sign that not only can we walk on our own two feet and provide for our own safety and security, but that the international community believes so as well.
However, while FALINTIL-FDTL and PNTL have largely provided for day-to-day safety and security for some years now, it is important to remember that the UNMIT/ISF departure will leave us lacking some important capabilities immediately after their departure.
Once UNMIT and ISF leave, their air capability will depart with them. The Timorese Government does not yet seem prepared for this eventuality.
UNMIT has a range of MI-8 transport helicopters and the ISF has many surveillance and transport helicopters. When their mission is completed, these helicopters and their capabilities will also be leaving the country.
The capabilities of these air assets are as follows, and they are all important Government responsibilities – ones for which we seem unprepared to assume responsibility as a country:
• MEDEVAC – Medical Evacuation: Since the arrival of UNAMET in 1999, international peacekeeping forces and their helicopters have provided medical evacuation services not just to foreigners but to countless Timorese. The Ministry of Health has been very reliant on this capability and many lives have been saved. Secretary of State for Equality Idelta Rodrigues benefitted from this service as a victim of a serious car accident in 2010. What is the Ministry of Health’s plan for this problem?
• SAR – Search and Rescue: Since 1999, the search and rescue operations of persons lost at sea, in the mountains, or victims of land slides, floods and other disasters have benefited from the use of helicopters. With the UNMIT/ISF departure does the Ministry or State Administration, Civil Security and PNTL have a plan for assuming responsibility?
• Surveillance: Helicopters provide critical ability to gain accurate visual information about security issues both at sea and over land. Border security often requires visual confirmation of issues from the air, as do the full range of internal security issues. UNMIT and ISF air assets have done this for 13 years. FALINTIL-FDTL have planned for a Light Air Component – but we still do not have the equipment/maintenance/facilities. PNTL plans for gaining capability in this area seem even less well developed than the F-FDTL. What are the plans for getting them?
• VIP Travel: Timorese leadership have often needed air transport for reasons of responding internal conflicts or preventing conflicts from occurring. They have also needed the air transport for other more political activities. Are there plans by the Council of Ministers for replacing international capabilities with national capabilities?
How much will all of this cost? What are the plans, if any? If these responsibilities are viewed as priorities, what other Government activity should we cut in order to pay for these tasks? Should we eliminate business class air travel for example.