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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2010

United Nations Security Council: The Situation in Timor-Leste

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Jim McLay, 23 February 2010 

Mr President:

I thank Deputy Prime Minister, Jose Luis Guterres, and Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ameerah Haq, for their statements; and also the Secretary-General for his comprehensive and valuable report on the situation in Timor-Leste. 

That report outlines the progress made across all areas of UNMIT’s mandate over the past year, and the considerable distance travelled by the Government and people of Timor-Leste since the dark days of the 2006 crisis.  It describes a country no longer in a state of crisis, one that enjoys greater levels of security and stability.  It describes steady progress in developing the capacity of Timor-Leste’s nascent political and bureaucratic institutions, as demonstrated by the smooth conduct of the Suco elections in October.  And it also describes the steps taken to strengthen the rule of law, and the process by which primary responsibility for policing has been progressively transferred from UNMIT to the National Police (the PNTL) since May of last year.

In assessing this progress it is important to recognise just how far Timor-Leste has come in the few short years since its independence.  But it is equally important to acknowledge the significant challenges that remain to be faced. Elections scheduled for later this year, and for 2012, will test the capacity and resilience of Timor-Leste’s electoral and security institutions, and the progress that has been made in embedding a stable and democratic political culture.  

We are all also well aware of the profound social and economic problems still faced by this young country in terms of lifting its people out of poverty, building an economy that extends beyond oil, and ensuring that its young people have the skills, training and opportunities they need to take charge of their futures.
New Zealand is currently reshaping its nine million dollar Timor-Leste aid programme to reflect better these key concerns.

Mr President:

Timor-Leste’s international guarantors of security – the International Stabilisation Force and UNMIT –  no longer face the same challenges of two or three years ago. Nevertheless, their presence, as a deterrent to disorder and as a support for the Government, remains vital for maintaining internal security and stability, a fact acknowledged by the Government of Timor-Leste.  As a long-term friend of the people and Government of Timor-Leste, New Zealand remains committed to playing its part in this international presence, as it has in every UN mission, and in both international security operations, since the 1999 referendum.

Today New Zealand maintains 150 military personnel – an infantry company – within the ISF, and holds the Force’s deputy commander role.  It has a 25-strong police deployment within UNMIT, with a particular focus on community policing training for the PNTL.  A New Zealand military liaison officer also serves with UNMIT.  Bilaterally, too, we are a committed partner, providing both our development assistance programme – which has been particularly active in the areas of education, justice and police support – and a five-person military technical assistance team.

Mr President:

Given these challenges, New Zealand supports the Secretary General’s recommendation for an extension of UNMIT’s existing mandate at currently authorised levels.  However, as the Secretary General’s report also makes clear, it is important to ensure that the size, shape and nature of international assistance evolve in accordance with Timor-Leste’s changing needs.   We are entering a phase in which the direct provision of institutional capacity by Timor-Leste’s international partners must increasingly give way to efforts to support its legitimate and understandable desire to increasingly run its own affairs.   

This transition has been reflected over the past few months in the gradual downsizing of the ISF, in consultation with the Timorese Government, as the situation on the ground has become more stable.  The ISF is also increasingly complementing its core security role with assistance in building the capacity of the Timorese Armed Forces, and on related development assistance.

Mr President:

This transition can also be seen in Timor-Leste’s evolving needs and expectations with regard to UNMIT, including its police component.  The Government of Timor-Leste has expressed its desire to resume, as soon as is feasible, primary responsibility for policing throughout the country, and its hope to achieve this goal by the end of this year. 

We welcome the Secretary General’s commitment to work towards this objective; and also welcome the careful consideration being given to how this can be responsibly achieved in accordance with the benchmarks for the transfer of policing authority agreed in the 2008 Medium Term Strategy.

To meet these objectives, it will be vital to ensure that UNMIT personnel are equipped with the profile, skills and experience required for the difficult and specialised task of institutional capacity building.  We therefore also welcome the Secretary General’s determination to ensure UNPOL is suitably skilled and equipped to effectively implement this aspect of its mandate, including, as appropriate, through recruitment of relevant civilian expertise.

Equally, we encourage UNMIT and the Government of Timor-Leste to intensify their efforts to ensure that sufficient investments are made in the PNTL to overcome the shortcomings that remain in its logistical and organisational capacities.  Such investments must be planned and implemented as a matter of urgency if the handover of policing responsibilities is to be implemented in a smooth, responsible and timely manner.

We also share the Secretary General’s view that, as UNMIT’s role evolves in this manner, its policing component will need to be progressively reconfigured and reduced, while retaining sufficient capacity to assist in dealing with any major security incidents and to carry out its mentoring and capacity building roles effectively.

As these changes are implemented, the need for careful coordination between all of Timor-Leste’s partners in the security sector assumes even greater importance.  As one of only two countries that belong to both the ISF and UNMIT, New Zealand is committed to maintaining the close cooperation and coordination that exists between these forces as their respective structures and roles continue to evolve.

Mr President:

New Zealand thanks the Security Council for its ongoing support for Timor-Leste, assures Ms Haq and the UNMIT team of its own support for their efforts and, above all, reiterates its continuing commitment to the people and the Government of Timor-Leste.

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:49 NZDT