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Timor Leste of the South Pacific?

Updated On: Jun 16, 2006

Australia, the United Nations and Asean are mauling over the roles that they should play in restoring the troubled Timor Leste.

While Timor Leste has asked for an international peacekeeping force under the auspice of the UN, Australia has signaled its opposition. “It would be better for the UN to focus on other issues such as East Timor’s longer-term needs while the multinational force, led by Australia, took care of the security” said Australia’s ambassador to the UN, Robert Hill. He also expressed interest in “undertaking key leadership roles” in a future UN mission.

According to Timor Leste’s foreign and defence minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a UN peacekeeping force must replace the Australian-led force as this was essential to “reduce political and diplomatic tensions”. He added that the force should be broadened to include other nations from Asia and the Pacific such as FijiSingaporeand Thailand.

UN peacekeepers who had been stationed in Timor Leste until last year in the aftermath of its independence from Indonesia four years ago had been phased out and replaced by a small political mission. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan regretted the move saying that the international community should not have pulled out of East Timor so quickly.

Although there are plans for a major new mission, he did not anticipate that to be immediate. “I do not expect in military terms, to see UN forces on the ground for the next six months or so. So I hope that the countries that are engaged now will help maintain law and order until such time that the Security Council takes fresh decisions, and if there is going to be a new UN peacekeeping force, we will then be able to move in and take over from them.” In the meantime, the UN is seeking US$18.9 million in aid from donor nations and relief groups for emergency humanitarian aid.

Australia’s defence minister had earlier urged Asian countries to play a greater role as “It is in all our interests to see that we do not have failed states in our region”. Malaysia, who is the sole Asean member in the current Timor’s coalition has expressed that “some Asian role in helping Timor was entirely apposite, given that Asean has plans to become a security community…it would be a shame if there were no Asian or Asean representation in the coalition, which doesn’t speak well of our commitment to the peace process,” said Malaysia’s Deputy Prime and Defence Minister, Najib.

While several countries in Asean have felt that the responsibility of Timor falls within Asean’s institutional purview, Timor has arguably seen itself not as part of Asean but as part of the Pacific Forum group of states in the South Pacific.

A commentator has expressed that beyond the requisite capabilities to provide assistance, the institutional context i.e. an appropriate framework to conduct peace mission must be correct and at present, the UN serves as the most viable framework for Asean members to participate. Singapore Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong during his visit to Australia reiterated the point that Timor Leste is part of the Pacific Forum, and supported the Australian’s active role in helping the troubled nation.

Sources:

Saving Timor: Responsibility belongs to all (Straits Times, 14 June 2006)

UN seeks $30m in aid for Timor Leste (Straits Times, 14 June 2006)

Australia resists UN takeover of Timor security (The Age, 15 June 2006)

East Timor left in the lurch: Annan (Herald Sun, 15 June 2006)

UN should play major role in policing E. Timor: envoy says (Antara, 15 June 2006)

Continue maintaining security in Timor Leste, UN told (Daily Express, Malaysia, 11 June 2006)