26 February 2011

UN wants East Timor to take harder line

Lindsay Murdoch February 26, 2011 Sydney Morning Herald DARWIN: The United Nations Security Council has urged East Timor to stop granting impunity for serious crimes as it extended the stay of the UN mission in the country.

The council also called on East Timor to strengthen the ''credibility'' of its police force following its collapse amid violence in 2006.

It extended the mandate of the 1440 international police and more than 1200 civilian staff and volunteers to remain in the country for at least another 12 months.
In a unanimous resolution, the council recognised political progress in Dili but said East Timor ''still faces many challenges in areas related to the underlying factors of the 2006 crisis''.

Timorese leaders, including the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, have signalled they want the mission as well as 400 Australian and New Zealand troops serving in an Australian-led stabilisation force to leave the country after scheduled elections next year.

East Timor has recently looked further than Australia to help build its security forces, signing a co-operation agreement with its former colonial ruler, Portugal, and buying two navy patrol boats from China.

During an address to the Security Council before it approved the extension of the $US200-million-a-year mission on Thursday Mr Gusmao acknowledged the concerns about the police force, which has 52 serving officers who face serious disciplinary and criminal charges.

The UN police will provide support and training for the Timorese force, which is scheduled next month to resume responsibility for all districts, including Dili.

But Mr Gusmao and the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, have also made clear they believe preventing a return to instability through impunities is more important than punitive justice in the fledgling country of 1 million people.

East Timor has authorised more than 200 pardons, commutations or prison releases since 2007, including for rebels convicted of attacks on Mr Gusmao and Dr Ramos-Horta in 2008.

Dr Ramos-Horta, who was seriously wounded in the attacks, told journalists in Dili that he was releasing the rebels because they were also victims.

In 2009 Mr Gusmao ordered the release from jail of Maternus Bere, a former pro-Indonesian militia leader accused of being responsible for the massacre of 300 people in a church in 1999, including three priests.

Bere was allowed to return to Indonesian West Timor, where he is a senior local government official.

The head of the UN mission in Dili, Ameerah Haq, told the Security Council she was optimistic the country's progress could be maintained if all political leaders and the broader public acted responsibly.

There had been no significant increase in violence in districts where Timorese police have resumed responsibility, Ms Haq said.

But she expressed concern at high levels of domestic violence and sporadic fighting among youth and martial arts groups.

East Timor was entering a crucial period that would determine whether the country had overcome the political and institutional weaknesses that contributed to the 2006 crisis, Ms Haq said.

The mission was set up amid the 2006 crisis, replacing earlier UN missions that were established after the East Timorese voted to break away from Indonesia in 1999.

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