Timor-Leste: The UN Looks to Renew for One More Year


Anthony L Smith

On 18 February 2004, Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, urged the United Nations to maintain a presence in East Timor when the UNMISET mission expires on 20 May 2004. Annan has proposed that the UN maintain an international force of 310 military personnel, to be supported by civilian police and civilian advisers. Annan’s proposal wording was revealing: he spoke of East Timor’s ‘security and stability’. Most likely the UN presence will remain because of threats from both outside and inside East Timor.

An extension of the UN mission’s timeframe is expected given the security and stability issues that the new government of East Timor faces. The threat from pro-Indonesia militias is a continuing nuisance to state security, even if it is well contained by UN forces and local East Timorese military and police units. A number of East Timorese citizens were killed by militia infiltration in two separate incidents in early 2003. But perhaps an even more alarming development has been the threat from ex-Falintil cadre, who maintain that they were shut out of government hiring. Former Baucau commander, Cornelio Gama (or ‘L7’), who remains head of a quasi-religious organisation called Sagrada Familia, has made open threats to the government of East Timor, which he maintains is illegitimate. Two other groupings, Colimau 2000 and the Committee for the Popular Defence of the Republic of Democratic Timor-Leste (CPD-RDTL), have also emerged as powerful groupings of veterans that engage in criminal activities, illegal collection of revenues, and are vocal critics of the government. The CPD-RDTL refuse to recognise the government of East Timor, its constitution and the UN presence – and echo many of the criticisms put forward by Gama. Alarmingly, CPD-RDTL leaders have openly spoken of civil strife once the UN forces leave.

To compound the problem of stability, there are serious doubts lingering over the ability of the army and the police to maintain security in a professional manner. A controversy arose during 2003 over the army’s arrest of a number of Colimau 2000 suspects – the army not only assumed the role of a ‘police force’ in this instance, but failed to go through the due process of law. There are also numerous instances of violence between the army and the police, as well as truancy problems within the ranks.

Kofi Annan’s proposal to extend the UN mission is, therefore, quite prudent in order to stem threats to both ‘security and stability’. There is no doubt that the international community will not allow East Timor’s government to founder, not least of all because East Timor is usually hailed as a UN success story. The Australian government has also made it plain that it will continue to underwrite East Timor’s security needs, and it intends to make military advisers and other forms of military assistance available to East Timor’s security forces into the foreseeable future.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect US policy, the position of The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, US Pacific Command, Department of Defense or any US Governmental agency.

WATCHPOINT: Will the government of East Timor be able to meet the challenge of a number of ex-Falintil groupings and criminal gangs through a combination of security force deterrence and economic measures without resorting to violence?


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