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Security Council

East Timor

In the early 16th century Portugal first began to colonize Timor in search of Sandalwood. Portuguese interest of Timor began to decline in the early 1900s. After WWII during the Japanese invasion of East Timor, many East Timorese moved for an end of colonial rule. Portugal governed the territory until 1975.

In 1974, the administrator of East Timor sought to establish an assembly that would determine East Timor’s global status. A civil war erupted between the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) and the revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fertlin). Portugal, unable to control the war, withdrew from East Timor. In 1976 Indonesian military intervened and integrated East Timor as its 27th province. The United Nations, however, never recognized the integration and called for immediate withdrawal of Indonesia from East Timor.

In 1982, Portugal and Indonesia began talks to determine the status of East Timor. In June 1998, Indonesia granted East Timor limited autonomy, which improved the talks between Indonesia and Portugal. On 5 May 1999, they agreed to conduct a “popular consultation,” organized by the Secretary General, to determine if the people of East Timor rejected or accepted the special autonomy of East Timor within Indonesia. On 11 June 1999 the Security Council created the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). The UNAMET was to administer the consultation and oversee the transition to what the people of East Timor decided. Overall UNAMET registered 451,792 out of 800,000 East Timorese. On voting day, 30 August 1999, 98 percent of the registered voters showed up at the poles. The people of East Timor voted to become an independent state. When the election results were released the pro-integration militias, along with some support from Indonesian security forces, launched an attack throughout the whole province of East Timor. These actions of the Indonesian government were not in keeping with the 5 May agreement. About half of the population of East Timor was displaced.

The Security Council undertook drastic measures to quell the violence in East Timor. On 12 September the Indonesian government finally agreed to accept assistance from the international community. Then the Security Council authorized a multinational force (INTERFET), which was under the command of Australia. Its mission was to stabilize East Timor, restore peace, and to help UNAMET carry out its own mission.

While INTERFET was conducting its mission the United Nations conducted a massive humanitarian relief effort. The aid arrived incrementally, and as more and more arrived the situation in East Timor improved. On 28 September Indonesia and Portugal met and decided to transfer authority over East Timor to the United Nations. UNAMET then began to restore its capabilities to complete its long-term mission.

The Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly accepted the results of the consultation that was previously held. After the Security Council received news of the acceptance, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was created by resolution 1272. UNTAET was a peacekeeping force “with overall responsibility for the administration of East Timor and will be empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority, including the administration of justice.” (Resolution 1272)

When UNTAET was completely deployed, in February of 2000, command of military operations was transferred from INTERFET to United Nations Peacekeeping Force. UNTAET then began to reorganize itself to resemble the future government of East Timor. This reorganization allowed for greater participation of the East Timorese people.

On 30 August 2001, East Timor held its first election for an 88-member Consultation Assembly. The election was a huge success: 91 percent of the eligible voters showed up at the polls. The task of the Assembly was to adopt a new constitution, establish a framework for future elections, and further the transition of East Timor to a completely independent state. Quickly after that a new 24 member Council of Ministers, consisting wholly of East Timorese, replaced the Traditional Cabinet created in 2000.

The East Timor Constituent Assembly ratified the territory’s first constitution on 22 March 2002. Presidential elections were held on 14 April. Mr. Xanana Gusmao won the election by a landslide with 82.69 percent of the vote. Having met the conditions of independence, the Constituent Assembly transformed itself into East Timor’s first parliament on 20 May 2002. On that day East Timor celebrated the end of its long struggle for independence from Portugal and Indonesia.

Although East Timor is now independent the United Nations still remains there. The successor mission of UNATAET, United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), was created by Resolution 1410 (2002). The mission of UNMISET is to further help East Timor develop its government and security, for there is much work to do in East Timor. The infrastructure remains in shambles. Over 40 percent of the 800,000 inhabitants live below the poverty line. The life expectancy is 57 years of age and half of the population remain illiterate. Much of the same problems that are present in other developing countries of the world are present in East Timor.

Many important parts of the law have yet to be written. Like so many other third world countries, corruption is beginning to take root East Timorese government. While the United Nations is still helping through UNMISET, it is due for reduction with the goal of complete removal by 20 May 2003.

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